A LOUD CRY ROSE UP IN THE LAND
Repeatedly, in light of the present exposure of sexual violence in religious community, and specifically in our Anabaptist culture, I’ve heard the question, “Are there no righteous men among us? Who will rise up?” These cries come from survivors of horror, as well as their parents, grandparents and loved ones.
The cry is loud. It is miserably uncomfortable. It has the church squirming and wondering what to do. This time, singing the hymn a little louder isn’t enough to drown it out. Another message on forgiveness isn’t going to cut it. Telling others the allegations are unfounded… we slipped past that solution too.
So the wailing and the hollering continues. Loud. Bold. Whimpering. Broken. It comes in so many forms. None of them easy to ignore.
In our discomfort we rationalize and minimize, downplay and trivialize… scold and attempt to shame into silence, the source of our discomfort.
The loud and bold, well they’re just obnoxious and seeking attention; probably not victims in the first place, like they claim. The whining broken ones, they’re stuck in a rut of victim mentality. Can’t help ’em if they don’t want it. Hopeless cases. Lost causes.
If the whole lot of them would just forgive and heal, we could make progress. And shut up, of course… if only they would shut up after forgiving. That would prove the healing. (And it would make us more comfortable).
But God forbid we let them don the sackloth and ashes of King David’s sorrow, or Job’s loss… those righteous men of God who dared to feel and grieve. The former, a repentant offender who did not hide his sin from the nation, but announced it publicly and let it be written in a book. The other a victim of terrible suffering and loss, feeling alone. Both welcomed by God.
How have we landed at this place of stoic, emotionless, oppression of the wounded? How do we dare proclaim it as a godly thing?
GODLY MEN MAKE A SHAMELESS SCENE
Apostles Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes when they were placed on a pedestal and worshiped (Acts 14:14). Why? they were not willing to take the worship and glory that belongs to God. Would to God that men and women of God today would not hesitate to tear their clothes for such a purpose. Imagine that.
Josiah tore his clothes when the book of the law was read (2 Kings 22:11). Why? That question is answered a few verses later, “…Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book…” (2 Kings 22:13). There’s no hand-washing about the matter. No excuses. No “it wasn’t our problem,” … “It wasn’t the whole nation,”… “It wasn’t every leader.”
These men showed humility; they were grieved that humans would worship them. They showed leadership; even though others failed they rose up, without excuse and took ownership. They showed emotion. Ripping clothes is generally not seen as rational response. (Picture your Anabaptist leader ripping his straight cut suit coat in church Sunday morning as a display of sorrow for all the atrocities committed in God’s name, under the care of His leaders. I expect in some churches he’d be ousted in a day).
Now let’s go to Apostle Paul. In Acts 18:9 God speaks to Paul in a vision and tells him to be bold and not hold his peace, and adds “I am with you, no one will hurt you.” We love peace. Anything that disrupts it, many call out as evil and ‘not of God’. Yet… here God commands Paul to not hold his peace even though it will disrupt the religious, and then adds, “I will protect you; I have many people in this city.” It goes on to tell a really amazing story of the people rising up to take Paul for judgement, but God totally has Paul’s back.
Jump ahead to verse 18, and randomly it throws in a line about Paul having shaved his head because he made a vow. There’s no real explanation for the vow, just this little interesting comment that “by the way, he shaved his head before leaving the area because he made a vow.” If tearing a suit coat won’t get your pastor removed from ministry (silenced, we call it), throw in a shaved head and he’s out. If he brings a container of ashes and sits in that…
APOSTLE PAUL REALLY BLOWS IT… AND THEN SHOWS TRUE LEADERSHIP
Just for good measure, let’s look at a particularly human moment with Apostle Paul, when he addresses the high priest with, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall…” Now that’s not a noble way to speak to someone in authority. Granted, he doesn’t realize it’s the high priest he’s talking to but was that really necessary? Where was his discernment? The man clearly had some authority if he was ordering Paul to be whipped.
But it’s the next part…. Paul realizes his wrong and immediately apologizes. Not only do we see his humanity as a leader; we also see his vulnerability and humility in his apology. That, my dear friends, is the mark of a true leader. The one who cannot own his or her faults, and it matters not for what reason, is not a leader at all. Not until leaders relinquish the ‘right’ to power and self-preservation are they truly leaders. This doesn’t mean they won’t fail; they will. And, having failed, they might, at moments and at first, hold their power in tight-fisted grip. But then they will see, “I was wrong. I sinned. I failed.” And at that moment, when they realize it, that is when they are defined as a leader, or not, based on their response.
Alas, we live in a world where such a thing is difficult. Secular society advises ‘lawyering up’ and carefully guard our wording in an effort to calm the loud cries without admitting failure. The church simultaneously hollers at those who dare point out wrongs of those held high, as if it is blasphemy. Thus, a leader who is going to stand up with honour and humility, and speak the truth without careful editing, must do so with blatant disregard for image, and amid the shouting of those who hold them high.
What if it’s okay for leaders to admit to failure. What if this obsessive search for perfection is not how it was ever supposed to be. What if ‘holiness’ is not about perfection after all, but rather an intense reliance on God’s grace and forgiveness? A ‘taking on’ His righteousness even in our imperfection, with the humility to face the consequences for our actions in this life. What if knowing that His grace has given us eternal life was enough, and we surrendered all entitlement in this life?
Wouldn’t that change everything?
Leaders wouldn’t need to pretend that things aren’t a mess. The image of perfection would hold no meaning. Instead of looking the other way when unspeakable crimes are revealed, they would acknowledge them. God’s grace would be held in high regard. Rather than lifting up the image of religion, the name of Jesus would be held in purest light.
And in that light, those who commit heinous crimes would repent with such humility that they would lay aside rights and demands. They would see that anything they can do to bring ‘rest’ and healing to the victims is a small price for the suffering and horror they caused. Here, in such a place, deep repentance would take on a whole new meaning.
The people crying out would be heard, not scolded and silenced. Not dissected, analyzed and judged. The cry would be recognized and the suffering acknowledged. Because, really, how bad must things get before anger and a loud cry are warranted?
Tamar, having been raped, wept loudly in torn clothes and ashes. Her father, King David was very angry when he found out but did nothing about it. I suppose at least he was angry. That’s more than most victims get as an appropriate response.
It is time to welcome an outcry that is not neat and tidy. The blood of generations past cries out from the ground, blending with the cries of the living. Our grandmothers and grandfathers, their sons and daughters, the single and the married… countless souls whose blood is on our hands…
God has heard the weeping. He has seen the tears and devastation. And the time for exposure has come.
It is an act of His mercy that this is brought to light. In that mercy, men of God are rising up to hear their sisters… and their brothers weeping. They are bending their ears and bowing their hearts, to acknowledge the suffering, terror and trauma, without demanding they be polite. They are acknowledging the anger as justified…. and seeing it is the language of those who have had to protect themselves, and behind that anger is a flood of pain so deep they cannot fathom it… a flood held back by a weakening dam. As these godly men lean in and listen, a beautiful thing is happening.
The damn is bursting, but it is a good thing. The tears are gushing over parched lands and territories, and life is bursting from places long deadened.
To these men I offer deepest gratitude. Many of you have messaged me this past month. You have prayed for the children of Haiti, you have prayed for the brokenhearted. You have prayed for me. I have wept as your words validated the awful reality we have allowed to steal our children.. as you spoke life over this hell we are in… as you spoke life over me and encouraged me to never abandon this calling God placed on me. It is especially powerful and meaningful that all but one of you are still conservative Anabaptist. You, have challenged me, offered counsel and encouraged me. Most importantly, you showed me the heart of God.
Maybe it is time to let the dams break, and rather build a Wailing Wall. A place where people gather, unashamed, to grieve the horrors they have suffered. Where the unspeakable is welcomed.
A place God visits the brokenhearted through the awareness that they are not alone; they are many. And the grieving ones are able to leave notes for God – whether literally or figuratively, and their sorrows are etched on the doors of His heart.
A place He takes the sorrows and broken identity, and offers, in return, a new name, a new identity even while He welcomes the tears, the pain and the sorrow. An identity that does not demand denying the depths of grief, but supersedes its reality. Not a ‘taking away’ of a reality, but a ‘taking on’ and entering in, by God and those who grieve with us.
THE GATHERING, NOVEMBER 2, 2019, LANCASTER BIBLE COLLEGE:
One of the things we are working toward November 2, 2019, at THE GATHERING, is creating a place where we collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse, and their trusted support persons to join together for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering. We will cry out to God, together. The invitation is to ‘come as you are’ in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
~ T ~
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© Trudy Metzger 2019