Today was rather cloudy and gloomy–and later in the afternoon it began to rain. It was just as well because EJ has been quite miserable as he battles some sort of respiratory infection. It’s easier to rest on gloomy days than nice, bright, sunny days. He took medication, I set him up with a vaporizer, I made him chicken soup, and we had a quiet day. In some ways, I think it’s rather bad that EJ can’t enjoy his three-day Labor Day weekend. On the other hand, it’s good that he gets three days to rest and try to get healthy.
There is a quote–really it’s a prayer–that I occasionally hear that goes like this:
My heart is very broken by abuse in the church. Abuse of all kinds is terrible, but I think that abuse that occurs in the church is especially heinous because abusers there claim to speak for God Himself, and in doing so they misrepresent who God is and they cause many people to struggle with–and sometimes abandon–their faith. I hate that church people typically support, defend, and cover up the evil of vile people while they condemn, guilt, shame, and sometimes even excommunicate the victims. Proverbs 17:15 says: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous — both alike are an abomination to Adonai.”
I think it’s ok to have my heart broken by abuse. Sometimes I don’t understand how people can pray for their heart to be broken with the things that break God’s heart, and yet when I’ve mentioned how my heart is broken by the sufferings of abuse victims, I’ve been told that I should just focus on happy things. I like to be happy as much as the next person, and it’s good to remember and enjoy blessings, but I sometimes wonder whatever happened to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep“? (Romans 12:15). I don’t want to ignore victims, to pretend they aren’t there. I think we have to also remember verses like these:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Prov 24:11-12)
A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released a report naming more than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania who sexually abused more than a thousand children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up. EJ and I have also watched programs called “The Keepers” and “Spotlight” on Netflix which describes the abuse and cover up of terrible abuse by the Catholic Church. We’ve also read articles about abuse in Catholic orphanages and we have friends at Facebook who have been abused by priests and nuns. It’s horrendous and breaks my heart.
I’m not a Catholic. It would be easy to feel arrogant that OUR Protestant righteousness exceeds theirs. However, there is also a lot of abuse in Protestant churches and organizations. In fact, I’ve read some abuse advocates who believe that abuse in Protestant churches might be as bad or even worse than in Catholic churches. It’s hard to know the numbers in Protestant churches because there are so many denominations and independent churches. Websites such as A Cry for Justice, Thou Art The Man and The Wartburg Watch, among others, describe abuse in many Protestant churches and organizations.
I knew an abuse advocate who spoke at churches to train them how to “predator-proof” their churches. He sounded really good, very caring about victims, and I almost joined his ministry. Then about a year ago–maybe less–a woman revealed that she had been drugged and raped at a restaurant while a student at a Christian university and the administration mishandled her situation–they actually condemned her and wanted her to immediately forgive her rapist, sit next to him every Sunday in church, and even marry him. The university and its leader was respected by the abuse advocate and he ended up defending them instead of supporting the victim. Because, you know, this was HIS favorite leader/ministry.
It’s always easy to point fingers at others–at them because they are not us. But too often we express outrage about the abuse in their group and are not willing to deal with the abuse that happens in ours–within OUR church, or OUR leaders, or OUR school, or OUR family. We just don’t want to believe it’s true. So we deny it, we pretend that we are a loving group, we accuse the victims of lying, we support and defend our leaders because they are “godly” men who do a lot of good for Christ, we help in the cover up, and we bring more trauma to the victims.
I personally believe that evil is evil. It doesn’t matter to me if an abusive person, ministry, or group is yours, mine, or ours. It doesn’t matter if he is a Catholic or Protestant, or any other religion. It doesn’t matter if he is a priest, bishop, cardinal, or the pope himself. It doesn’t matter if he is a pastor, elder, Sunday School Teacher, or head of a denomination. It doesn’t matter how spiritual he sounds. In fact, evil people are skilled at looking and sounding good. Ps. 55:21 says, “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” And Ps 28:3 says “Don’t drag me off with the wicked, with those whose deeds are evil; they speak words of peace to their fellowmen, but evil is in their hearts.” Evil people can appear to be workers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Just because they look and sound good, doesn’t mean that they actually are.
We are taught in church that God always loves everyone and that it is wrong for us to hate. But Psalms 11:5 says: “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” Psalms 97:10 says “Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” Psalms 45:7 says: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Therefore, I do not think it’s wrong to hate evil. The evil actions of wicked people make me sick and angry. Yet, I’m also heartbroken, sickened, and disgusted by people who support, defend, and cover up evil. Evil can only thrive when people deny it, look away, accept it, cover it up, and silence victims. If we would expose it, stand up to it, oppose it, it would not be able to exist. I’m not sure which sickens me more–the abusers or their enablers.
I was trying to think of an example of attitudes that allows evil to thrive. I know many abuse stories–but I think it’s best to share from my own life as an example.
When JJ was about 9 or so, EJ’s brother lived with us for about a month. He had been going through a bad time and EJ really wanted to help him out. While he lived with us, we learned that, well, uh, he wasn’t the best sort of person. He was manipulative, had cheated people, and did other things. One day, the brother acted toward JJ in a way that really alarmed us. EJ confronted his brother who moved out soon after. JJ said his uncle hadn’t touched him so we never told the family what had happened, we never insulted the brother to them or tried to prevent them from having a relationship with him. Not ever. We didn’t understand about victim grooming then. To protect JJ and our family, we had very limited contact with EJ’s brother. It helped that he moved quite far away. EJ talked to him on the phone and FB infrequently. The rare times we saw him at a family event, we were polite. The others in EJ’s family didn’t even know we had a problem with him until one of his sisters directed a comment to him in the family FB group that I admined. I privately messaged her that he wasn’t a part of the group, and wouldn’t be, and that she needed to contact him directly. I didn’t tell her exactly what had happened because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d be believed and I didn’t want to have to defend our actions. A few months later several in the family demanded in the FB group that I add the brother to the group. Obviously, the one sister had told the others and they decided as a group to insist on their brother’s inclusion. I refused, telling them that I couldn’t add him because he wasn’t safe and I had blocked him on my page. They began to pressure me to include him because, after all, he was a “true blood” member of the family, one of the “original” group of siblings–thereby placing those of us who married into the family as “lesser.” They said how terrible it was that we were so unforgiving, unloving, ungrace-filled, unChristlike in not having contact with the brother.
They were so awful that I contacted an abuse advocate for help. I explained everything EJ’s brother had done, what we had done, and how his family was now acting. The advocate said that the brother had engaged in victim-grooming behaviors that are very typical of molesters and that we had done exactly the right thing–only she thought we should warn the family in order to protect the children. So I did, which made the family even angrier at me. (The one who exposes evil in a family is usually the target of their intense anger.) EJ and I have since talked with several abuse advocates–maybe five or six–and every single one said that the brother had definitely been victim-grooming JJ. EJ also discussed it with his family doctor who became so upset that she was going to report the brother to the authorities–until EJ told her that it had happened years ago and JJ said his uncle hadn’t touched him. I mean, it’s difficult getting a predator convicted even when there is strong evidence of abuse. We didn’t have enough to report him. But that’s how serious the behavior was. One of EJ’s sisters said that “Well, it could have been victim-grooming, but it also could have been innocent”–and that their brother was just a man-boy. Excuse me? A “man-boy” is a teen who is transitioning from a boy into a man. A man in his (at that time) 40s is many things, but a “man-boy” he is not. The sad thing is that none of the relatives expressed any concern for JJ or the possible harm that could be done to other children in the families. Only a couple of the family supported us.
Another sister said that obviously I didn’t come from a family who understood love of family. She wrote the following, which is only a portion of a longer message that sounded reasonable, sweet, and caring on the surface, but was actually very condescending and belittling. I mean, a person knows when someone genuinely cares and when “the words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.”
Down here in SC, I am sometimes at a cultural disadvantage. What I mean is that there are things that every Southern lady takes as fact that are completely foreign to me. For example, we are expected to wear lipstick and fix our hair to go to the grocery store. In the same way, many of us J**’s take for granted as fact that in the J** family, every terrible crime/negative thing that could happen–physical, sexual, emotional, financial, pure craziness, etc. any drama, you name it, has happened within this group and our universal truth is we work to forgive each other and we stay family…Our mother always insisted we include everyone…But like keeping toe nails polished and wearing lipstick to Walmart, it is what we expect because we grew up with it and is not necessarily what TJ understood to be facts-of-life.
We are not simply talking about “keeping toe nails polished and wearing lipstick to Walmart.” We are talking about a family who tried to bully us into allowing someone into our family whom we had strong reasons to believe was a predator. Here are some facts of life that I know: My family was not filled with dirty, bare-footed children who wiped our noses on our sleeves and ate with our fingers. When I was a child, family friends thought we were the “all-American family”–like the Waltons or something. We were polite, considerate, hard-working, well-dressed, and intelligent. We excelled in school. My parents didn’t beat us, they didn’t drink, we had family vacations and birthday and Christmas presents. No one in my family–parents, siblings, or me–has ever been divorced or had a child outside of marriage. EJ says he definitely believes that his family is far worse than mine.
In my family, I, personally, was called “The Smart One,” “The [Real] Christian,” “The Caring One,” and “The One Who Could Be Counted On to Help Out.” My Mom told me once that she and Dad knew that I would do anything for them–but they understood that I could never be forced to do anything that I believed was wrong. When I was engaged to EJ, my Mom told him (when I wasn’t in the room) that I was VERY loyal. EJ thought that was a strange thing to say, but he decided she meant that I would be committed and faithful to him. Later, we realized that she was warning him that I would be loyal to my family rather than him. So, yeah, I understand about family love and loyalty. I understand the cost of not submitting to the family.
On the surface, my family was good, but underneath there was a lot of manipulation, favoritism, and other abusive behaviors. I didn’t realize this until I got engaged to EJ and my Mom tried to seize control of our relationship. It was terrible, she turned my whole family against me, but I’ll spare you the details. The thing is, that there are certain behaviors that exist in dysfunctional families. They are in mine and they are in EJ’s family. They include excessive control, group think (everyone has to believe and do what the group says), bullying, hiding abuse, a belief that the family is “loving,” and a demand for complete family loyalty. Loyalty to the family is everything.
But what does the Bible say? Does it teach that members of a family (or group) must have such a strong loyalty that they accept each other no matter what terrible crimes or abuses are committed? Let’s see, shall we?
Deuteronomy 13 says this: “If your brother the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or your wife whom you love, or your friend who means as much to you as yourself, secretly tries to entice you to go and serve other gods, which you haven’t known, neither you nor your ancestors — gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near or far away from you, anywhere in the world — you are not to consent, and you are not to listen to him; and you must not pity him or spare him; and you may not conceal him….” Earlier in the chapter, the Israelis were commanded “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him….You must purge the evil from among you.” So even if your family or your closest friend entices you to rebel against God, you are not to do it. You are not to consent, listen, pity, or spare him. You are not to conceal the wrong.
I was taught all my life that the whole Bible is the Word of God, and yet it is astonishing how many people will quote from the OT if it supports their belief but say, “But that’s the OT and is no longer applicable” if it doesn’t support their belief. Either the whole Bible is the Word of God or not. You can’t pick and choose which you think still applies. But…for their sake I will go from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Galatians 1:8-9 says: “But even if we — or, for that matter, an angel from heaven! — were to announce to you some so-called “Good News” contrary to the Good News we did announce to you, let him be under a curse forever! We said it before, and I say it again: if anyone announces “Good News” contrary to what you received, let him be under a curse forever!”
Do you understand this? If someone teaches something that is contrary to what God says, he is under a curse. What does God say? He says that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous — both alike are an abomination to Adonai.” He says that “the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” He says that He loves the poor and needy and will deliver them from the hand of the wicked. He tells us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice…Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. And He says that even if your family or your closest friend tells you to rebel against God, you are not to do it. You are not to consent, listen, pity, or spare him. You are not to conceal the wrong. Jesus, in the New Testament, says this:
“Don’t suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Land. It is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword! For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, so that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Whoever loves his father or mother more than he loves me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than he loves me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:34-37)
Paul wrote this in 1 Corinthians 5:11:
No, what I wrote you was not to associate with anyone who is supposedly a brother but who also engages in sexual immorality, is greedy, worships idols, is abusive, gets drunk or steals. With such a person you shouldn’t even eat!
Our primary loyalty is not to be to our family. It is to be toward God. If we love our family more than we love God, we are not worthy of Him. Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commands.” That means do what He says. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to families, but to any other person or organization.
EJ’s sister wrote that “in the J** family, every terrible crime/negative thing that could happen–physical, sexual, emotional, financial, pure craziness, etc. any drama, you name it, has happened within this group and our universal truth is we work to forgive each other and we stay family.” This is considered admirable to them; this is considered “love.” I think it is reprehensible and heartbreaking. This sort of loyalty is twisted. It’s not wrong to love, forgive, or be committed to each other. However, if we demand complete loyalty no matter what, right or wrong, if we demand that an evil person is forgiven and accepted even if he doesn’t repent, if we cover up crimes and abuses and protect the one committing them, if we try to force people to submit to the group, evil flourishes and innocent people are damaged. It’s not Christlike to do these things. It is precisely the sort of attitude that allows abuse to occur in families, in churches, in universities, and in any other dysfunctional group where the group’s image must be protected at all costs.
When people support, defend, and cover up the evil of abusers, the world is not looking at them and saying, “Oh, wow! Christians are amazing! They are so loving and forgiving toward even the most vile people!” No, they are disgusted. As Paul said in 1 Cor. 5: “It is actually being reported that there is sexual sin among you, and it is sexual sin of a kind that is condemned even by pagans…And you stay proud? Shouldn’t you rather have felt some sadness that would have led you to remove from your company the man who has done this thing?” Here is what was said at the end of an interview with an abuse advocate who had been abused by a priest:
So please understand that it is a serious thing to support and/or conceal an evil person. A person who abuses others is NOT a good man, NOT godly, no matter how spiritual he looks and sounds. A victim who speaks up is not destroying a ministry–the abuser is by his actions. If you support, defend, protect an abuser, and help silence victims then you empower him to victimize others. You share in his guilt. An accusation of abuse should always be taken seriously and law enforcement should be called in to investigate. Period. If you really care about others, you will stand against evil people who hurt them. And, please, educate yourself about the dynamics of abuse. Abusers love religious organizations because the people within them will give them unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance no matter what they do. The odds are high that if you don’t understand abuse, you will either become a victim or will support and enable the abuser.
Update: An abuse advocate just posted an article about the young woman I mentioned above who had been drugged at her Christian university. I think it’s very excellent and timely: Should The Master’s University insist on loyalty to authority more than care for the oppressed?