Next Thursday I will lead a discussion in my Sociology of Deviance class. Our prof has given us an extensive list of readings from which to choose, as discussion leaders, out of which we choose two for our class to read and discuss. One of the two I chose addresses whether pedophilia is a sexual orientation, versus a crime. My interest in the topic is self-explanatory. My father was a pedophile. But my interest in this slant to the subject is not so straight forward.
I’ve long taken issue with church protecting pedophiles in the name of forgiveness, and then fretting over how they can protect their children from predators ‘out there’. The same holds true with the prevalence of homosexuality and lesbianism in our Anabaptist culture, and then being all horrified at the ‘sexual perversion’ that exists ‘out there’. Or, as one elderly conservative Anabaptist woman told me a few months ago, they knew ‘back in the day’ that if you missed your period and were not ready for another baby, that you just purchased naturopathic products to cause a miscarriage. But abortion is met with extreme judgement against those ‘out there’. (I understand that some readers will find this shocking and hard to believe, as I did also, at first. Now I have enough stories documented from eight years of working mostly with ‘my people’, and by that I mean conservative Mennonite, not the people of my birth culture – that the shock factor is lost on me.)
Of all of these, pedophilia is the only one that is blatantly and openly ‘protected’ in our culture, by many at the leadership level, as well as lay members. And, I shudder to say this out loud, but in my experience women more actively cover for men than men cover for themselves, many times. Homosexuality/lesbianism, premarital sex and abortion are present aplenty – albeit, with much denial all around – but harshly condemned, whereas pedophilia is openly and actively protected. Yet, not one person in my experience has ever expressed that pedophilia ‘out there’ should be overlooked. In fact, when such news comes to light ‘out there’ all the appropriate gasps escape lips in church.
This double standard ‘because we are sorry, so we must be forgiven and not face consequences’ boggles my mind. I would think that if we are so sorry, truly, deeply sorry, then we would face the consequences with humility. (I also know if I was a sex offender looking to hide, I’d put on some cultural attire and adhere to the strictest rules possible, and look as holy as possible.) It has been my observation that many times when society pushes for a particular agenda – ie; same-sex rights and marriage – that church has already long lived that very thing in some form and hidden it. Same holds true for abortion. It was in church, secretly, long before it was legal at a political level. So who are we to judge?
Pedophilia is no exception. It has not only been present in church for ages, but there’s the blatant protection of those who engage in child molestation. It is only reasonable to expect (and dare I say support) society to legalize it as a sexual orientation, and decriminalize it, if we are already there in how we handle these crimes. So, when this happens, church, spare us all the gasps. At least until first there has been a great repentance across the many denominations in Christendom because we have blood on our hands, and pointing bloody fingers at others is especially shameful. And when that repentance has come, the gasping will cease – because gasping at ‘their sin’ is the work of arrogance, self-righteousness and denial, not the work of love, grace and the Gospel of Jesus, and especially when we begin to acknowledge we have the same sins among us.
So, on Thursday, when I engage a handful of young scholars, I anticipate there will be a stronger stand against pedophilia than what I am accustomed to in my work, as relates to engaging leaders of pedophiles, or their spouses, parents or families. On Thursday I anticipate the class will say even if it is determined to be an orientation, that the person should have to face consequences, and it should still be a crime.
Ironically, in this secular space there seems a much clearer view of the horror and damage done by molestation than I am used to hearing in church …. unless, of course, if we are talking about the man ‘out there’ who, God help him, ‘used’ his children. Or the school teacher ‘out there’ who touched a student. Or the neighbour man/boy from ‘out there’ who so much as makes a flirtatious pass at one of ‘ours’. Or the ungodly man who stalks, kidnaps and rapes one of ours. When it is one of ‘them’ we gasp and weep and ask why. We cannot grasp what wickedness would drive such a person. We acknowledge the horror and the trauma. Our worlds are rocked when ‘one of them’ invade our space and do the very thing that is already happening among us. But when it is one of ours, we don’t believe the victim.
I was around fourteen years old when a young aboriginal boy attempted to rape a girl at knife-point in our community. We were all shaken. He was one of my best friends and had never so much as looked at me in a way that felt inappropriate. In a matter of days he was shipped back to where he came from, leaving our community reeling. I felt both loss of innocence (mostly because of the knife, and thus the violent nature of the crime) and loss of my friend. But no one shipped away the leader’s son who, minus the knife, sexually assaulted some of us to varying degrees. He was successful. It wasn’t an attempt. But he claimed at least one as mutual consent, and took ownership of what he did to me, and life went on as always. It is the most profound example of my youth, of that ‘us and them’ difference, and how in church it just goes away.
There comes a steep price tag with that kind of thing. God says “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). I am convinced that most of what we gasp at ‘out there’, is directly linked to what we hide and overlook among us as God’s people. I am convinced that our repentance and the ‘turning from wickedness’ that moves the hand of God to heal our land is not because we repent for them ‘out there’. He heals our land because we repent for having first wandered away from Him.
Our land needs healing. God’s people need to stop pointing out there and living a double standard, and start repenting in here. If ‘ours’ don’t deserve punishment for molesting children, then I vote that the law criminalizing such behaviour be done away with. The day our expectations of society are higher than that of God’s people, we have absolutely nothing left to offer. And shame on us if that is how we live while proclaiming the name of Jesus.
It’s time to choose which it will be.
~ T ~