Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Elephants In The Church

In a recent interview with Christianity Today*, Rachael Denhollander (a survivor of Larry Nassar's horrific reign of abuse) pointed directly at the elephant in the room and clearly named it. The elephant is, of course, the truth that the church is not a safe place to look for help when dealing with abuse. In fact she said it is actually one of the worst places to seek help!

But she wasn't finished. She then looked slightly to the right of this animal and identified it's twin brother - the vilification and shunning of those who dare to expose abuse within the church.

She was under no illusions that the support she had received from evangelical christians in exposing Larry Nassar's abuse was very much tied to the fact that he was regarded as "other" - an outsider and therefore fair game. Evangelicals of all sorts claimed her as their own and held her up as a sterling example of 'christian' courage and forgiveness. Yet when she addressed the issue of the cover-up and enabling of child sex abuse in the church, she was suddenly "mistaken" and making "false accusation[s]". Her own abuse was used as a weapon against her - because she was so wounded, she was seeing things that just weren't there!

But she is intelligent, articulate, and - despite being labelled, judged, and shunned - she is refusing to sit down and shut up. She is standing her ground. And she is pushing back! 

She is pushing back against an institution which, on the one hand, is well-known for advising victims of abuse to simply "forgive and move on", or suck it up for the sake of appearances or even submit to their abuser's supposed "God-given authority"; and which on the other, has a long history of silencing, shunning, and further abusing those who attempt to expose this evil in its midst.

Of course the irony is that this same institution has habitually held itself up as both model and arbiter of all that is righteous and pure in the world. It has regularly condemned "sinners", railed against "the world" and pursued power to enforce its own moral code. And in doing so, it has far too often achieved nothing but to drive people away from the One who came, not to judge and condemn, but to prove his outrageous love. The One who put power aside - consistently rejecting its allure - and cared so little about his own reputation that the religious leaders ruled him unfit to represent their god.

So maybe it's time for a new plan - one that looks a whole lot more like Jesus. And maybe that needs to start with acknowledging those elephants are there; admitting that we invited them in; and cleaning up those stinking piles of their dung!

* I highly recommend you click through and read it!

Friday, 26 January 2018

When Christians Refuse to Follow Christ

"...if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering." - Jesus Christ

While this seems to be a fairly unambiguous instruction - which comes straight from the lips of the One christians profess to follow - I find it mind-boggling how often the exact opposite happens in christian circles. I'm particularly appalled by how many 'leaders' there are who refuse to engage with their brothers and sisters; who seem to have no interest in even listening to their 'siblings', let alone  making peace with them; and who continue to silence and shun those who voice their legitimate grievances.

I know there must be leaders out there who do deal with disagreement and discord - I have heard stories that they exist - but like unicorns and faeries, I have yet to encounter any of them myself. In fact, in the aftermath of the bullying and abuse I experienced at my ex-church, I asked a variety of people to sit down and talk things through, and yet none of the men who saw themselves as 'leaders' would do so.

And the couple at the centre of the power play consistently declined to meet with me unless it was with their pet "counsellor". (And as he had already told me that the church would collapse if this couple left it, I had my suspicions regarding his impartiality.) Three years later, when this couple attempted to take me to court, I offered professional mediation as an alternative way of dealing with things, but still they refused.

For some time, I thought that this behaviour was an aberration - that most christians took seriously Jesus' call to "leave your gift in front of the altar" and "go and be reconciled" with your brother or sister. Maybe there was just something in the water of this little church that led to such craven behaviour.

But then it happened in my "christian" workplace, too. As the office manager, I was dealing with a case of bullying amongst the staff when my boss suddenly stepped in and sidelined me, protecting the bully. Despite the testimony of several witnesses, this man decided to believe the lies of the bully and made several accusations against me based upon them. When I showed him proof that they were not true, he simply refused to acknowledge the evidence, and then ignored my repeated requests for a hearing on the matter.

Surely that was an unlucky co-incidence? Lightning might have struck twice in the same place, but...

...then, at the end of last year, it happened again! An incident at my son's 'christian' school exposed a situation which seriously disturbed both my husband and I. It led us to contact the principal whose behaviour and attitude we had found highly inappropriate. After it became clear that our email communication was not going to be fruitful, I offered to meet face-to-face in order to attempt some resolution of the matter. Apparently he appreciated the offer... but he was quite certain he understood us and therefore had no interest in pursuing my offer. (Of course, knowing what someone thinks and understanding why they do so, are worlds apart. But that's another story.) Once again it was a case of thanks, but no thanks.

Now, never let it be said that I don't profit by my experience! And I had reached the point where I'd actually come to expect this reaction, so I wasn't in the least bit surprised by it. And as experience has also taught me there's no point in pushing the issue, I didn't waste my breath any further. (I'm a great believer in letting people make their own choices in life.)

But that doesn't mean I think it's ok, or that I can respect it. And it sure doesn't mean I can reconcile it with those words of Jesus, who we each say we are following.

More importantly, what it does mean is that each time it happens, the credibility of christianity takes another blow, and it's most often from those who speak the loudest about their religion - and who lament the longest about how 'the world' won't take them seriously. But when people see us refuse to work through our disagreements, or deal with our discord, then I'd say they are wise to dismiss us. Until we can demonstrate we are not afraid to work through disputes, or contend for peace in the midst of conflict, we actually have nothing to offer. And I think it's about time we were honest with ourselves about that fact.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christian Men, You Are Not Entitled To Respect!

Recently, I wrote to the head of a christian organisation raising my concerns over an incident that had taken place within that institution. One week later, my email had not even been acknowledged, let alone answered.

My husband then sent an email through to the same person, addressing the same concerns. A little over two hours later, a response had been sent which, while it mentioned my email, was addressed solely to my husband.

I consider that behaviour to be extremely ill-mannered... and not a little cowardly. And, to be completely frank, I am utterly sick of coming up against christian men who think they can behave like complete jerks, and then demand respect based on nothing but their anatomy!

Because this is not the first time I have experienced that sort of behaviour from christian men. A number of males involved with my ex-church acted like this, as did my previous employer, who loudly (and proudly) asserted he ran a 'christian business'.

All these men made it abundantly clear that they expected to be treated with respect by me. In fact, some of them have been quite outspoken about my apparent lack of respect! (And yet it seems that not one of them have felt any need to respect me.)

So I thought perhaps it might be helpful if I explained a few things:

If you bully me, patronise me, or wilfully ignore me, I will not respect you.

If you try to control me, manipulate me or dictate to me, there'll be no respect here.

If you refuse to engage with me, attempt triangulation, or otherwise treat me as some sort of inferior being... zero respect.

And just to avoid any further confusion, let me add: I do not need your permission in order to disagree with you. I do not need your approval to have my own opinion. I am an adult. I am your equal. If you want my respect, you need to earn it!