You have heard about the Duggar situation. I would be shocked if you hadn't, being as you found this post and are reading it on the internet. I am not going to argue with you about whether the Duggars represent Christians or not. I am not going to try to prove to you why their religious fundamentalism is unhealthy. I'm not going to fight with you about whether the state produces hardened sex criminals who just went in confused, or any other basis for why the church and parents should be able to handle sexual abuse apart from the authorities.
Even more, I don't deny the existence of the culture war that is why you feel you need to be #TeamDuggar because even though you aren't, not really, you are #TeamJesus so now you see this situation as one where you have to fight on behalf of all who claim Christ. I don't deny you the ability to go fight. I just refuse to engage on the front lines of the battle with you. I'm going to go back into the shattered homes with people huddling in the rubble and pray I can speak to them about Jesus and his grace, to be the Bride of Christ to them. I'm hoping you might come listen in for just a moment.
Maybe, just maybe, you'll be the Church and join me.
In thinking through this blog post, I had every intention of starting with two stories about how abuse destroyed the lives of two people I love. I wanted you to see the three-year-old girl raped by the 14-year-old neighbor boy, then again by him 3 years later because his parents thought they could handle it better than the cops, how her own parents thought she'd be fine if they just never talked about it and she forgot it happened. She never forgot. Similarly, I planned to tell you about the five-year-old girl sold to sexual predators over and over under the umbrella of religious fundamentalism because that rigid, clean, "god-fearing" environment which espoused the evils of CPS out to steal their kids was the perfect place to hide--both for the parents who sold her as a sex slave and for the host of pedophiles. I wanted you to see that these are the victims we are silencing and heaping shame upon when we wave our flags of, "Don't you dare demonize Christian homeschoolers!", or, "This is unfair abuse of Bible-believing Christians by the God-hating liberal media!"
And I thought about sharing links to articles that articulate more healthy Christian responses that focus on the victims, but then realized that if a word like "affirming" or "feminist" or "egalitarian" appeared in a positive light anywhere on the website the preponderance, if not all, of what the author had to say would be discarded as tainted by their theology.
So to tell the truth, I decided not to write this post. I figured everyone out there can fight their culture war and lobby shells over the front lines about who the real hypocrites are because I would rather, literally and figuratively, go home and grab a blanket and lose myself in the problems of Eric and Tami Taylor and their Dillon Panthers. Those problems don't make me long for death the way my social media with my own friends does right now. And if you think I am being dramatic, you don't know anything about PTSD or abuse or the way the Church writ large absolutely fails to care for the oppressed.
Then I remembered the huddling people. The ashen faces of those told God cares more about the war against rampant homosexuality and sex outside of marriage than about the fact that the very soldiers who believe God's sending them into battle are the same ones who harmed and failed and abused these hiding people.
And I realized that I don't need to appeal to your heart, beg God to open your eyes, with the stories of those I love.
The Holy Spirit gently affirmed in me that he would have me come tell you about me.
I do not want to, not really, because of the backlash or simply being written off it may invite. But SOMEONE has to go speak to the broken people and, while I don't presume to speak for everyone, my story might help stop the abuse that you, Christian, don't think you are perpetuating.
You may not listen, but if I don't speak you definitely will never hear.
I was sexually abused by my biological father repeatedly from birth until I was nine years old. I believe there was about a two year break from age 5 to age 7, but my childhood memories are more hole-parts than filled in ones. I can't be certain exactly when it started, because the man, Chuck, as recently as a few years ago still denied that he ever did anything other than love me appropriately and well. However, due to evidence my mom found and his reaction to it, which she says she only pieced together five years later when I first told her about the abuse, my mom believes it started at latest when I was about a week old.
The way I found out it was wrong was when a "good touch / bad touch" presentation was given at my preschool. Concerned that I kept trying to speak up but then silencing myself when everyone would look at me, my teachers told my mom at pick-up that they had grave concerns that someone was harming me. When my mom asked me, which she did almost right away, I simply told her that my daddy touched me in the bad touch areas in the bad touch ways all of the time. She immediately went to the authorities, and, long tragic story made short, unfortunately I was so young and so confused--and Chuck was so manipulative and had the money for a good lawyer while my now single mom had minimal resources--that the case was thrown out. My mom seemed to be a vindictive woman who put lies into my head as a means to destroy the husband she despised and was secretly stocking money away from so she could leave. They gave her the divorce and him a free pass.
Oh, and this is crucial: Chuck had been accused of sexual abuse in the past. He swore to his mother that it wasn't as bad as they said, but that the mistakes he did make he was profoundly sorry for. He was changed. He beseeched his devoutly Christian mother to forgive him, to let him start over and prove how changed he was. So, when he met and dated and then married my mom, his own mother kept her word, didn't forsake her forgiveness, and said nothing.
Chuck, then, was given shared custody with no limitations, and, though I have no time frame for this, waited just long enough for suspicion to wane before he began abusing me again. At this point, my mom was so destroyed by all of these events that I felt like I needed to protect her so I said nothing and endured the abuse. There are other reasons, but for the protection of some other parties I won't go into detail. I will tell you that simply reading the Duggar police report made horrible memories of being a little girl going through the same process of naming body parts and talking about what happened to me feel like it was right now. I spent my fifth birthday being interviewed by police officers, so proud to prove to them how well I knew my ABCs and completely oblivious to the gravity of why they were there.
When I spoke up about the abuse a second time, at age 9, my mom exhorted me to go tell a school counselor. The courts, she said, would not listen to her but if I detailed the abuse to a mandatory reporter it might actually be rightfully prosecuted this time around. And it was. But, again due to parts of this story not mine to tell, Chuck only served 5 years in prison. He has been out in this world, walking the streets of a city just 3 hours from where I now live, since I was 16 years old.
So, in many ways, you can say the system failed me.
I still am a fervent advocate for always and immediately going to the authorities when sexual abuse is discovered. I do not care if you are a Christian or a church or how good you think your theology is to deal with sin--go to the authorities.
Let me tell you why: with great trepidation, I ask you to imagine for a moment a confused little girl sexually abused hundreds or even thousands of times by her own father, a man she loves deeply. Imagine the manipulation and grooming and lies he must place in her, speak over her, write on her soul, to be able to keep his dark deeds against her hidden for so many years. And yes, even imagine with compassion how wounded and psychologically sickened and disturbed that man is to plan and act out his horrific sexual desires for a small child.
I was told how sick he was. How wrong he was. How I did nothing wrong and it wasn't my fault, it was all him. No one even encouraged me to forgive him--to this day most of my family openly admits they hope he burns in hell. I don't, but I'll get to that. But do know that, though my first memory of life is him abusing me, I have just as many memories of missing him and not understanding why my daddy was sent away...and then of profound guilt when I finally realized that it was my fault that he was gone.
|Me, just days after the abuse was first discovered;|
what you don't see is how many tears I cried that my
daddy wasn't there for the family photo shoot.
If you are thinking it wasn't my fault, and how I should have known that, then, again, you have no idea how the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage done by abuse works.
Now, on the one hand, no longer was my abuser someone within the four walls of my home. I didn't have to see him at the table for meals on a daily basis or know his bedroom was still just down the hall from my own as I tried to sleep. And no, he never said he was sorry, but even if he had, I didn't have to live in fear because of how he still abused me even after I was told he could never hurt me again and how being in my home kept opportunity for him to reoffend close.
Neither of these reasons are why, to this day, what he did to me torments me. For sake of an attempt at brevity, let me lay out just a tiny bit of why I am still tormented.
1. Despite much actual biblical counseling and grace after meeting Jesus later in life, I still wake up from nightmares that Chuck has me in a room and I, at this age of adulthood, want to lock out the world and engage in illicit sexual activity with him. Despite hating everything he did to me as a child and never once feeling sexual pleasure during his abuse, wrong Christian teaching that I probably have some sort of evil pleasure lingering in my psyche fueling the nightmares is something I fight against to this day. I wake up equally relieved that it isn't real--no, he's not here and no, I don't want to have sex with him--and then fearing what ugly must lie in my soul that in my dreams I do want him.
2. Chuck's abuse and destruction of my soul and poor responses by my mom and stepfather made me easy prey for other abusers. I was sexually abused by multiple men, none strangers to our family, and some of the men were family members that no one else in my family knows about to this day. The best attempts to make me "be ok" after my abuse led to me thinking only really evil people do harm. Being programmed against my father as such meant that when other "good" men harmed me I excused their abuse as mistakes that they didn't mean because I was afraid the greater evil would be if their lives and families were destroyed by the authorities because I spoke out.
Oh, and those nightmares? They happen about the other men, too. Sleep isn't real fun for me.
3. Simply being sexually abused carries deep wounds of shame. I ALWAYS default to thinking things are my fault. Always. No matter what happens to me, I search and try to find out why I deserve the other person's sin. Even when I am actually blameless in a situation, I desperately search for a way I can find fault to basically say, "Look, I was super evil and so you sorta made a mistake that was kinda bad in response, so let's forgive one another and move on."
Those are just three ways, but you can only imagine the way they thread throughout and touch all parts of my life.
I am begging you to read those three points again and imagine the torment that is still within me. Imagine carrying all of that, and THEN being told by the church and other Christians that I need to forgive Chuck so God can save him. When I share that I actually do pray Chuck meets Jesus, receives the scandalous grace of forgiveness for what he did to me just as I have experienced said grace, how I want him to know the freedom I have known both for my sin and the cleansing of the sin against me, I am told the proof of that forgiveness would be in my finding Chuck and telling him to his face. Even to have ongoing relationship--with boundaries, of course, of course--so that he can see how real God's grace is because he sees it in me in person and with access to my life. That's real grace and forgiveness, I am told; my words and testimony about the state of my soul are just theoretical, probably what I want to be true, but my actions could prove Jesus.
|This is me, at a week old.|
That precious baby girl was already being sexually abused by that beaming father.
But what a good, happy looking family, no? At least we weren't on TV.
I am told the torture and trauma and horrors I have to face over and over and over again don't matter much to God. What does matter is that I get over it. I need to believe how clean God made me--hurry up! Even worse is being told to repent of my sinful unbelief that I am clean, because that is worse than the abuse. I didn't choose to be abused but I'm choosing the shame. I need to stop preventing God's work, believe I'm clean and safe purely because God exists, so I should go have relationship with Chuck so then God can save Chuck's soul.
I beg God to save Chuck's soul. The thought of him burning for eternity and seeing his evil sin as he suffers haunts me. Lord, may it not be so! But praise God that, be it his will to save Chuck, he is so powerful and great that he can use any and all of the seven billion people on this planet that aren't me to do it. The Lord is absolutely powerful enough to give Chuck the gracious gift of salvation without again exposing me to the man in order to do so. God is sovereign over Chuck's soul.
And now, through tears, I cry out once again, "But what about my soul?"
If that makes you sick to your stomach, the idea that I would be exhorted to go have relationship with the man who raped me repeatedly as a tiny little girl, then can you AT ALL recognize that this is the same thing people who insist that the Duggar girls must have been ok--because their parents say so and as children the victims themselves said they were--are endorsing? Do you know that thousands of victims are silenced in this way by the church, told that God can handle the abuse better than the godless cops, so let's "grow closer to God" as we forgive and get over it?
As every single abuse victim who is finally given actual Christian counsel--told that God can handle everything they feel because he died for both their righteous suffering and their unrighteous responses to it when he impaled Jesus Christ to the cross--will tell you, they're never over it.
|The very fact that this isn't the response by so many in the church right now|
redoubles the shame of myself and countless others.
[Photo courtesy of the amazing Mary DeMuth]
You think you're over it, you think that it's at least not a big deal like it used to be. You have healed so much! And you really have. But then a story like this breaks. And you see people fighting about the culture war, friends you trust posting #istandwiththeDuggars, and you are torn between thinking, "I must be wrong. I must be wrong. I must be wrong," and then the CRY OF YOUR SOUL wails, "God! Oh, God! When will the church's knee jerk reaction be #istandwiththevictims?" Especially when two minutes of research prove that there is a highly likely chance that, in the name of God and his Holy Bible, those victims have been programmed to believe that the very desire to stand for themselves is sin and that Jesus would not stand with them, that he stands against them for even questioning their parents or church elders.
When will we go out of our way to risk losing the culture war in order to care for the broken victims already in our churches? And, dear God, when will we accept responsibility for the fact that it's our fault that no one on the other side of the battle, those unsaved people we say we love, wants to come into our churches? We care so miserably for our own that there's no damn way we're going to care for them, so different from us and so wrong.
This is what is toiling in my soul. This is why I read the Duggar police report and then documentation on the Gothard / ATI teachings and wept until 5am early Sunday morning. This is why I can't even read social media right now, can't bear the words of my own friends and people in my own church. This is why I have to write this post.
Thousands of victims are bleeding right now. For those fighting the culture war, on both sides, the shrapnel is slicing through the children and teenagers and grown women and men who have been shamed and silenced again and again and again.
If you set down your weapons, came and found us hiding under our beds--the same ones so many of us were raped in--and asked us, do you know what we, if we could find the courage, would say to you?
"Why don't I matter to you? Why don't I matter more than gay marriage and the liberal media and the embarrassment you feel when some article on the internet insinuates or decries you as a fool for believing God? You say you are fighting for God and for me, so why don't I matter? And if I don't matter to you, do you know how much harder it is to believe I matter to God like you say I do? You're sniping off the liberal hypocrites from your watchtowers in my name, saying you pull the trigger on behalf of the oppressed, but you never once asked me if that's what I wanted from you."
Do you, culture warring Christian and defender of the Duggars, understand how incredibly unfair it is that after everything I have been through I now have to come splay my soul bare like this? Because of how your words affect me and so many others, I have to beg of you to turn from your crosshairs aimed at those dirty liberals and progressives, and see the blood your friendly fire sent gushing from my veins so that, for possibly the first time, you might really see me.
I don't need you to defend me. Not as an abuse victim and certainly not as a Christian.
|Lord, that we might not wearily turn away from you as our defender|
You can say this is unfair. Your motives are for all Christians to have a voice in this world. But when you are judging the liberals by their actions yet tell me your motives are good, that it doesn't matter what you said because you didn't mean for it to hurt me like it did, that I should judge you by the purity of your own heart to fight for the Gospel, you are every bit as hypocritical as those you have deemed the enemy. I shouldn't have to accept your actions based on your profession of pure motives when your words just blew my guts all over the ground.
Besides, do you even believe the Gospel you preach, that you need Jesus because no one is righteous? That you can't even know the motives and intents of your heart and that's why you continually need Christ? Why do you speak of being a sinner yet you never actually sin?
Do you know what so many, perhaps all, of us victims in your church want? When a "scandal" like this breaks, we want the Christians and the church, the people we know right in front of us, to say, "Christians are going to get skewered for being hypocrites. So be it. If you are a victim of sexual abuse, or any abuse, I stand with you. Let's go take refuge in God, our strong tower, together. Yes, the war will rage, but I am right here with you. Only with our God are we safe."
We want you to stop fighting for us and come and sit with us.
Did you catch that? Read it again.
We want you to stop fighting for us and come and sit with us.
And if you think your suffering as Christian who is disrespected by the media is equally as relevant as the suffering of sexual abuse victims then, truly, I am heartbroken for you and your self-centeredness. May the Lord graciously give you the compassion he feels for the hurting people you don't want to really, truly, finally see.
And to my beloved fellow victims, you who can hardly read this post through the trembling and tears.
My dear, sweet, sweet soul--if you are reading this and you are squeezing yourself into the corner of your closet so tightly, so wounded by the fact that people you love and trust are the very ones claiming, often only when pressed, of course they care about the victims but the secondary problem that will get all of their focus is the evil god-haters who take glee in denouncing those lovely, nice Duggars? And you want to give up on church like I do?
I see you.
I think of you.
I ache for you.
I cry out to the Lord in groaning for you.
I weep with you.
And, with great confidence, I tell you that so does God.
Let the theologians and even pastors rail about how important this culture war is and how gay marriage and sexual promiscuity--you know, the things of flesh and blood--are what we are supposed to be fighting against. Let them. But know that they are wrong.
|TRUTH, my dear souls, TRUTH.|
I tell you that God always stands with the oppressed. Yes, he loves and died for the sins of those who abused you, but not at your expense. God does not care more about your abuser than you and he is not asking you to avail yourself to being wounded again and again in order to finally be able to reach your abuser or to fully redeem them. Our God is not that small, that weak.
Your God defends and protects you, and his first and foremost concern is always your safety and well being in him. And "in him" includes your abuser being removed so you can be safe, no longer available for them to abuse you. They are the one who leaves, not you. The consequence of their willful and intentional sin is that they not only must submit to Caesar for their punishment but that God's grace is extended to them to repent and be redeemed in the church, but not yours. In a home with loving parents or parental figures, but not yours. Forgiveness and belonging to Jesus does not mean your abuser has the right to be dealt with only by the church or "in house" at your expense.
Again, they are the one who leaves, not you. That includes you showing up but never really being present or vulnerable because you will never be safe having them around. Don't you dare believe the lie that if you really loved or trusted God you would be ok with having them around. They need to go so you can have the opportunity to see how you are actually doing, what you are feeling after the abuse occurred.
And dear soul, if those telling you the opposite of this are your own church, your own elders, your own parents, your own spouse, I beg of you to get outside help. They are wrong and they are perpetuating your abuse despite their proclaimed best intentions to submit to God. I know you are scared and you think everything will fall apart and it will be your fault, but that is a lie. You did not commit the sin, and the consequences of death and destruction to relationships are faulted to your abuser, not you. I don't promise it will be easy, but I do promise you that Jesus fights for you and his will is to get your abuser OUT of your midst.
If you are alone and isolated and have no where to turn, but this is your situation, you can write to GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) at email@example.com
Or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will not only listen to you but do everything I can to ensure that you are not kept in the dark and suffering.
Finally, if you read all of this and think, "If that's true, my word, what weakness," be it about yourself or others, then praise God. You are getting the Gospel.
Jesus, help us. Help us all. And Christ, my fortress and strong tower, I beg of you, come quickly.