Poll Re: Responses to Sex Abuse Victims in Conservative Mennonite/Anabaptists

In a recent post on Facebook, I was trying to point out two wrong response to the whole topic of sexual abuse:
 
1. That child molesters are most despised in society
2. And victims who speak out are most despised in church
 
Both statements have exceptions, and I was not intending to overlook those exceptions to say that ‘all people, in all situations’ respond this way. (In fact, that short quote was a mini-introduction to the longer post I was working on, which immediately followed and addressed the bigger message).  But the initial status was met with a defensive response to how wrong I am about how victims are treated and that it isn’t all churches, because I failed to ‘say it in so many words’ that it is not all, in every situation. 
 
I made a statement, based on 8 years of working internationally with victims of sexual abuse in conservative Anabaptist communities and spending the past two years reading academic papers from other religious communities, that victims who speak out are most despised in church and offenders most despised in society. I absolutely believe what I said. The statement about victims applies in two ways. Victims are not as despised outside of church, they are most despised in church. And, when considering those who are despised in church, I know no group to be more despised than victims who speak out about abuse and won’t be silenced. 
Acknowledging this was not meant to stir hatred toward offenders. It is what victims experience (less so in my case than in many), and to acknowledge and look at it is key to changing how things are. Frankly, I believe this is why half the crowd can’t read what is intended because someone is hell-bent on preventing Christians seeing it for what it is. If we do, we stand a chance at making a powerful impact.
 
Nonetheless, rather than take my word for it, and in order to let the stats speak for themselves, I created a poll for all victims of sexual abuse in/from conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist churches to vote on their experience in this regard. I trust the responses will be honourable and honest. (It is completely anonymous… I don’t even have access to names or identities of who voted).
The victims I work with may well be the group who are damaged through abusive response from church, and represent a small portion. The rest might be thriving because the church responded so well; I do not know. What I know and am confident in is that what I said is truth in the demographic of hundreds, even thousands with whom I have interacted, internationally, for nearly 9 years. And the statement regarding offenders is also true, based on academic papers written regarding sex offenders in prison — child molesters in particular — and the testimony of child molesters who have done time.
If you were abused in the conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist church, you can take the poll here: poll on response to sexual abuse.  After you have voted, the results (in percentages, will pop up. Currently, for 50% their church never found out, and the other 50% the church new and did not offer support to the victims.
As always…
Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

50 years… almost…and a dream..

Some time ago, I said to Tim, “I hope we die together, holding hands in our sleep, when we’re in our early 80’s.” 

“Speak for yourself,” he said, “I want to live into my 90’s”. 

I laughed. “Well, I hope your last years aren’t too lonely!” And then I instructed him, as I do from time to time, that if I should die before him, he should get married again soon so he’s not too lonely. 

I am about to start my 50th year. It’s reasonable to believe that this means over half of my life is gone. (Is it okay to say, “I hope so!”? I have no ambitions of living to 100. None. Yes, yes, I know. God ordains my days and I get no say. I’m good with that. I’m just saying I don’t get it about people who want to make it to 100. It baffles me.

We were never ones to celebrate birthdays much, at home. I had one party at age 10, with three friends over, and Mrs. Frank Roth, my one friend’s mother, had sewn me an apron in white with lime green frills around it, and flowers painted on the white centre panel. I think I still have it tucked away in a box of treasures somewhere. It was pretty special. Not because I cooked a lot — I was more likely found in the barn than in the house — but it was from my friend, and her mom had taken time to make it.

With the start of my 50th year being just a jog away (I turn 49 on Friday November 23), I started thinking about what I want that year to be…

And the only thing I long for is a breakthrough year for survivors of sexual abuse in our conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist communities. We are planning an event, and  limiting it to various conservative Mennonites and Anabaptists because we are a unique culture. We have suffered in unique ways, and process abuse with mindsets shaped in very specific ways within the culture, not easily understood by those who were not raised like us. (This includes everyone from conservative Mennonites, Amish, Old Order, Hutterite, Markham, Old Colony, Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, Eastern, NorthEastern, SouthEastern, Pilgrim, Nationwide, Fellowship, River Brethren, German Baptist and everyone in between and beyond. And if you don’t have a clue what any of those mean or are… I’m guessing you are not from a conservative Anabaptist community.) And it is for both male and female survivors of abuse, but excludes those who went on to victimize and abuse others as adults. 

We’ve had conferences and seminars, and they’ve been good. More recently we’ve done training days, offering sessions for those wishing to support victims. These have been very well received, and I’ve enjoyed doing them. (Tentatively we plan to do a two-day even here in Ontario, April 2019, followed up with a Friday evening to Saturday conference.)

But this year I want to do something special for the survivors who are often neglected among us. Rather than a teaching conference, I’ve long dreamed of bringing survivors together to acknowledge and grieve/mourn the suffering, and also celebrating purpose and hope and experiencing God with us… the God who enters in and suffers with us and among us… who weeps with us and gives us permission to enter raw places in our hearts, without pretence. (Jesus wept. King David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Job… the prophets… These heroes of faith grieved. It’s time to shatter the politeness that denies suffering, and let God visit our sorrow. Only then will healing come. No amount of teaching, training and ‘fixing’ will change the course of history until God has dwelt among us in our suffering, and that suffering is acknowledged.)

We will have compassionate leaders speak life and hope over the audience. No preaching…. let along long preaching or ‘advice’. No telling them how to get over it or do better. Just life. Spoken in the present. Purpose, declared. In the present. Love offered, without judgement. In the present. Just as we are. Because it is that ‘present hope’ that transforms us, not the pressure of trying to attain.

We will have some survivors share poetry, art, and will all worship God in the midst of suffering. There is something powerful that happens in worship, and there is something powerful that happens when pain is acknowledged and we discover we are not alone. People care. We are in this together…. Bring together the acknowledgement of suffering with the presence and worship of God… Ah… yes please!

And the beauty of how God has wired us! In trauma we tend to lock up and lose our words. Yet, through art He gives us expression that cannot come out any other way, and though it He invites us to healing. And in that expression, we connect with others and it opens up their spirits to hope and healing. This is true of music, painting, poetry, dance, mime and so many avenues. We are not all the same. A painting may do nothing for one of us, yet move the heart of another to tears. The same with poetry. But when expression pours from the heart of the other, we enter into their story and find permission to enter ours. When I studied this in trauma class, I spent several weeks on a project, and in 12 weeks of that course, the healing that came to locked up places was almost surreal.  Yet, when I return to the project I did — a poem set to dramatic background music — I still weep because it still unlocks a place in my soul, connected to childhood, that only art can touch. And it is beautiful. Because the pain means I survived, I overcame. I am alive! And that connection with fellow survivors is what my heart longs to create, with the help of many.

I shared it with a handful of people, and the response was exceptionally positive. I posted an email address to sign up for updates, and within minutes the emails came in. Updates have been well received, with many taking time to give feedback in response to ideas. Voting on things like location — with Lancaster PA by far in the lead — and whether to have a concert at the end of the day, or with what musician…. Jason Gray took a strong lead here, as many have already found his music to be very healing and uplifting. So we put in a request to have him come, and are waiting to hear back.

Over the years I’ve used his music (as well as Matthew West, 10th Avenue North, and others, but especially Jason Gray’s) to minister to the brokenhearted, to give them a safe space after sexual assault or other abuse, when down and out or struggling with suicidal ideation. In one of my earlier blogs I shared a young woman’s story – with permission – and the night of breakthrough God used Jason Gray’s song Nothing is Wasted to open her heart, and set her on a journey of freedom. Another young woman asked me to take her to the location where she had suffered deep trauma, and we played Remind me Who I Am, as she faced her trauma and wept. Many of my early clients could tell stories of finding permission to grieve and struggle through chaos of their stories, inviting God to speak through the avenue of music, when the spirit cannot hear Him for the pain.

To make it all happen is going to require a ton of organizing and planning. Which I love, fortunately! And I’ve recruited the help of a handful of other individuals, with yet others messaging to offer their assistance! (We are so thankful for each of you!) A few of us are already talking food prep, because… well, it’s our culture and we love good food! (We’ll try to feed you well, though we may not compete with a traditional Mennonite Sunday dinner.) One enthusiastic volunteer spent the night after a conversation dreaming we were making food together, so she’s all in! I will be donating hundreds of hours throughout the year, and many volunteers will also be giving of their time and resources, for which we are thankful. If you want to be updated, please send an email to AslanHasHeard@gmail.com.

I’ve set up a fundraiser on FB – which has generated almost $2000 since Saturday.  (However, the majority of donors have given through our website at Generations Unleashed since this is an American event, and the FB fundraiser only allows Canadians to give). All funds are specifically allocated for this event expenses, with the hopes that it will allow hundreds of victims to attend at minimal cost to them. (We ask for a non-refundable $15 to $20 contribution, as it creates a sense of ownership and commitment.) 

In the next few months we will need to raise around $15,000 for this event, to cover venue rental, the fee for bringing in a musician, and food costs. The minimal registration fee will go towards these costs as well, as we anticipate more than $15,000 in expenses.  If you wish to contribute, please visit our website by clicking HERE

I have one wish for my 50th year… that victims will be heard like never before, their suffering be acknowledged, and that they will become survivors, and then move from being survivors to being warriors for truth and justice, willing to lay down their lives for the next generation. This is my birthday prayer this week,  and my prayer for the event next November.

That is how I want to celebrate 50 years on this planet, (if God grants me one more year), by gathering with hundreds who, like me, thought they are/were the only ones molested and abused. And for every celebration between now and then — birthday, Christmas, anniversary and my 50th next November — the only gift I long for is making this event possible for survivors of sexual violence. 

Love, 

~ T ~ 

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Forced bestiality, beatings, and other sadistic abuses in religious communities

When I think I’ve heard it all, and am beyond shock, every now and then something strikes such a shocking blow that I am left reeling. This week was once such week. Frankly, I’m glad I wasn’t sitting face to face with some of the people whose stories were told to me this week. I have a ‘thou shalt not gasp’ policy, meaning no matter what I hear, I remain even-keel, calm and reassuring. What I felt as I read stories this week was not even-keel. In truth, I felt anger. And, at moments I slipped towards hopelessness that we will ever make any real headway, with all that lies hidden, and carefully swept under the proverbial church mat. But then the realization, We are making headway! This stuff was hidden yesterday! Today it is not. This conversation was silent not so long ago, now it is not.

And that is true whether we are talking about sexual abuse, bestiality – forced or other – and beatings often justified as spankings. We have made unbelievable progress, as far as I and the victims/survivors/overcomers of abuse are concerned. Of course that means for those who wish to hide it, the job of sweeping has suddenly become the job of shovelling waste, as the carpets are ripped away. But that’s another problem entirely. And that one isn’t mine.

What I mostly want to address in this blog is two things: forced bestiality and beatings justifies as spankings. Predominantly the former.

First the beatings as spankings… My Facebook friends and I have had some rather engaging conversations this past week. I could try to capture the conversations here but will leave you with the links, if you are interested in reading the many thoughts shared. (Visit links to read/engage discussions: spanking wives/adults and Christian ‘counsellors’ saying that is what abuse victims need if they just don’t get over it , also,  on bowing to religion – the not-God-kind of religion, that is.) My request is this, if you engage, choose to also listen to opposing views. Some strong feelings were expressed on both sides of the spanking debate, but from what I saw, it mostly stayed respectful. That is my expectation.

The ‘birthing’ of these conversations all began a few months ago when — not for the first time and not the first person — someone wrote and asked if I would address the topic of spankings and the religious justification for it. But, most specifically, this individual asked if I would address the topic of sexual arousal in the child being spanked. I’ve heard of this over the years when working with survivors of abuse and trauma, but what was unique in this case was that the individual was raised in a loving home, protected from abuse – sexual and otherwise. Even in that environment this individual struggled with sexual arousal during spankings, which developed into a spanking fetish later in life. (Read the conversations on spanking & fetishes here: First conversation and Second conversation.)

(To better understand this,  I have read claims that the increased blood flow to the genital area can, in some individuals, cause erections in males and engorgement of genitals in females. I will not link the articles as there was other information that I am not comfortable linking in my blog, given my audience. I offer the disclaimer that I cannot endorse or disprove these claims, but it would make some sense of the phenomenon.)

The result of this sexual arousal during a spanking can lead to spanking fetishes, as was explained by the individual asking me to address it, and it can also lead to fascination with BDSM. (I have supported and engaged multiple clients/individuals, internationally, who have experienced this, and most, if not all, developed the struggle through spanking  and/or sexual abuse. Not all were sexually abused, but all were spanked. So I am personally familiar with this, though my experience is limited.)

My motive for opening the conversation, especially when my knowledge and understanding of it in our settings is so limited, is quite uncomplicated. To give voice to those who are isolated and ashamed, with no one who understands them. There was a day when we, as survivors of sexual abuse, thought we were the only one, that no one would understand us, and if we spoke out we would be judged, condemned and shamed. Well, part of that proved to be true. Most of it, in fact, except the being all alone part. And the judged, condemned and shamed parts were already our reality, so nothing was lost. But we gained a community of supports, a place to be understood, to stand together in our brokenness and try to heal. And, just as importantly, to try to influence change for the next generation, to make sure they do not suffer what we suffered. Or, at the very least, that some who would have suffered if we had not spoken out, do not because we spoke out. For survivors, that is often more important than our own healing and justice. So I give voice to this today, for those who have suffered, so they can rise to the Light and find freedom and support. (Yes, you will be judged, condemned and shamed, I can’t make that go away; it is the painful reality of religious responses to suffering and speaking out. But I can promise you that there is also a community of supports who will rise up, cautiously at first, but then grow stronger, and hopefully save the next generation of children this horror.)

Before I address forced bestiality, I want to address the many who have engaged in bestiality out of ignorance and a lack of teaching surrounding sexuality. People freak out when you talk about bestiality. Yes, it’s tragic. It is horrifying. It is dehumanizing. But lay aside the disdain and the judgment for a moment and hear me on this. It is not as cut and dried as many people make it, of a perverted teen deciding one day to have at it with an animal. It mostly doesn’t work like that. The reality is, it often starts young, and often because of abuse and/or exposure to things no fault of the child/youth. That doesn’t make it ‘okay’, but for heaven’s sake, consider the context. Their recovery/healing and redemption depend on it.

The number of people who engaged in forms of bestiality as relatively young children – I believe the youngest I am aware of is around age 4 – and into teens is shockingly high in our farmer-family conservative Anabaptist Christian groups. (This is not to say it isn’t a problem in other cultures, but I cannot speak for non-Anabaptists because I have no such stories to draw from.) Some engage in bestiality because they were abused (forced to perform sexual favours such as fellatio/cunnilingus) and this sparks the idea of engaging with an animal. Others see older siblings, hired hands, or fathers engage in bestiality and experiment. Some experience sexual feelings and watch the animals and decide to experiment. Whatever the driving force behind it, almost without fail there is no teaching on sexuality, and no awareness of what it means, or the consequences. I do not wish to shame you, judge you, or further impose that darkness on you. I have worked with many clients who were involved in various forms of bestiality and I have a lot of compassion for you. It is heart-breaking, the lack of teaching and whatever you suffered that influenced the choices that flowed out of that. There is healing and freedom for you; you do not need to carry that shame.

The real issue I want to address on this topic is the use of bestiality as a weapon of abuse. I will not expound at length on it, nor will I be graphic in it. My intent is to create awareness and hopefully give voice to those who are and/or have suffered this violation. Furthermore, I want to make leaders, family, friends and fellow believers aware of it, so they can respond and be available to help these victims heal. Our minds cannot fathom the horror if we have not been there. And we have no right to silence them, or to rush them to healing. (Which, in religious communities often equates to pretending things while the mind slowly deteriorates into insanity. Not healthy at all!)

It was early in ministry when bestiality crossed my radar the first time. I had heard of it, a little, but was relatively naive. And certainly naive to the prevalence. In 2012 a counsellor from Guelph – a city not far from us – asked to meet. Their team had heard that I was doing conferences and wondered if I would be willing to share how I do what I do, what my training was, and other various questions. I agreed to meet and candidly responded to anything they asked. When the counsellor asked, bluntly, if I was encountering many stories of bestiality I was stunned. Yes, I said, more than I expected, including young women. This was their experience as well.

Over the next few years, from near and far, the stories trickled in. Were there hundreds? Probably not. Though I never kept track. But there were men. Men and women, alike, told me their stories – or wives told me their husband’s stories, and men their father’s or brothers’ stories – and the shame, the guilt, the brokenness that ensued. Fathers teaching their sons. Sons seeing their fathers. Brothers shamelessly engaging together. Young women. Sisters….

Several years had passed, with story after story trickling in. Wives resenting and despising their husbands, wanting nothing to do with them after they found out. And then the first story of forced bestiality appeared. Nothing can prepare the mind for such a thing. Daughters told of their fathers forcing them into it. Sons told of their fathers ‘teaching’ them. And wives… wives forced to engage in it at the commands of their husbands.

I have not been able to write about this before. And even now, as I do, my heart is sick. I really do not care what people think. That’s not what troubles me. It’s the horror… the opening up of something so deeply buried inside our walls and our churches. A cancer eating at the souls of our people … A poison draining the life from souls. And, like everyone else, I’ve just not had the stomach to open it up.

But the time of silence is over. As I said on Facebook, I have no one left for whom to perform, and the weight of that burden lifted is a gift. It frees me to speak all the things that need to be spoken, with no fear of consequences. Oh, there will be consequences, but they really can’t take anything from me. I have nothing left to lose in the religious world. (Thank you Jesus!) Nothing and no one left for whom to perform. And even my personal life, upon my death – should someone see it necessary to eliminate me, I expect a series of disclosures to be set in motion that will rock the world. I do not plan to die with secrets left to kill another generations. So I really don’t have anything to lose.

What I stand to gain is the freedom of those crying from the shadows. And that, to me, is everything. What I stand to gain is the hope that maybe someone in the next generation will not suffer because some adult found healing before they hurt that child. That, to me, is everything. What I stand to gain is that one person, currently in bondage, will hear the voice of Jesus saying, “I have not forgotten you. I have not ignored your suffering.” And that, to me, is everything.

If these are your experiences – whether the person who willingly engaged in bestiality, through ignorance and confusion, or the person who was forced into it, or the child (maybe now adult) who struggles with fetishes or BDSM – you are not alone. There are godly and good men and women who will walk with you, love you, support you. As many of you know, my world is quite busy/full right now with university, but I am not too busy to do my best to link you to support in your community. If you need someone to talk to, private message me, (EMAIL FOR SUPPORT) and I will do everything in my power to find someone safe for you to connect with.

Don’t suffer alone. Don’t suffer in silence.

And if you are guilty of committing the atrocity of forced bestiality, whipping, beating or spanking adults without consent/participation, or abusing children, youth or adults, reach out. I will help you face the truth. It won’t be easy. But you will find freedom. You will have to face the consequences, but it will be worth it to break the chains for yourself, your victim(s) and the next generation. There is no price too high for freedom.

With compassion… sadness and deep love for the broken… As always…

Love,
~ T ~

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing consensual spanking and/or BDSM as a healthy practice, I’m merely saying it isn’t my business and it isn’t illegal or criminal. My calling is for the victimized and to help offenders face consequences.

Kavanaugh & Blasey-Ford: Just another political/religious feud? Who is fibbing? And is anger a sign of guilt?

In spite of my busy schedule, I’ve followed this case as closely as time allowed. My interest in the case is not even a smidge political, other than how this will impact the future of victims who have legitimate allegations, and who will undoubtedly be questioned because of the political nature of this case. There is no doubt that it became a political weapon in the hands of Democrats. As a survivor of horrific things – along with many other survivors, including some who would otherwise praise the Democrats for taking a bold stand – this is violating and counter-productive. I am concerned it will do great damage to society acknowledging the trauma of victims and giving them a voice.

This week staying somewhat up to date with the case meant squeezing in time for Ford’s testimony and abandoning the last segment (because missing class and sacrificing marks seemed excessive). By the time I returned home, people had sent links to the the testimony and I watched the rest. I read some reasonable pieces about the case, and some with glaring biases. I tried to pick out the ‘information bits’ in them. In the process I’ve formed some strong opinions, most of which I will lay aside because opinion or assumption is all they are.

Speaking of assumptions and speculation… Any argument based on that for which there is neither evidence nor witness, does not sway me. And I’m amazed by how many people put full stock in speculation to the point that it becomes their truth. (Keep in mind that a victim’s trauma and experience are evidence, albeit less and less verifiable with the passing of time.) That in mind there are a few things that I really don’t put much weight on until evidence surfaces:

1. The two phantom men who allegedly came forward claiming to have been the ones to assault Dr. Ford. While a possibility, I have zero reason to believe such men actually did come forward.  The media producing such a story, with no names and nothing to show that such men exist, looks glaringly like the clean up crew getting called in. At first, I admit, it made sense of the story for me, based on things I had already observed, but when no names or identities were forthcoming, that all flushed down the pipe real fast. I’ll believe it when these alleged men have the cajones to make themselves known publicly, and their stories check out under intense investigation. Until then, they are a phantom in my mind. (If you were to ask me whether it is possible that two men, not including Judge Kavanaugh are guilty of the assault, the answer would be a resounding, Yes. It’s very possible. In fact, given other observations, that makes the most sense to me. But that teeters on the edge of speculation, so I leave it only as a possibility, nothing more.)

2. The claims that Dr. Ford was paid by the Democratfor launching allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. I would expect politicians to be far more self-serving than to leave an obvious trail, though it is again one of the possibilities, and if it surfaces, I won’t be shocked. I do know there’s a ton of fundraising happening – though I didn’t know that until recently – but I’ve seen nothing to corroborate claims of any association with the Democrats and money.  I would welcome such evidence being produced. (Again, knowing how crooked political games are, do I think it’s possible? Yes. Absolutely. But, at this point it is pure speculation based on what I have seen or heard. Stating as fact what has no evidence is not only troublesome, but it amounts to saying “We can make unfounded allegations, but you can’t.”

I don’t like them in any case, and when I recently used unverifiable information – which I discovered to be unverifiable after the party denied it, an outcome I did not anticipate – I took ownership. After the party declared his innocence, combined with realizing that the person who told me in good faith could not produce evidence, I publicly apologized. I hold the same position in this case. If it cannot be proven, don’t hold to it as truth. If you present it as fact and there is no evidence, apologize.

3. People are saying if you’re innocent of charges, you don’t respond in anger, thereby assigning guilt to Judge Kavanaugh. That is bogus. And that is one of the things I will reference a bit later, based on my experience with confronting alleged abusers. Especially religious ones. (Keep in mind, this is based on my experience; it is not scientific evidence. It has not been proven or stated by anyone else, that I am aware of.)

The part I am interested in commenting on, is based on observation in this particular case (drawn completely from watching the testimonies and producing my own screenshots) as well as what I have observed in eight years of working with victims and offenders.

Was Dr. Ford assaulted?
Watching Dr. Ford’s testimony, I have no doubt that the woman experienced the traumatic event she describes. I believe she was assaulted, at least close to the manner in which she describes. And I say ‘close’, not to minimize her experience, but to account for things that may have altered her memory. So I believe she was sexually assaulted, but am not sold on the facts she presents, but I do believe she genuinely believes them to be fact. Furthermore, she spoke with various people over a period of years as she processed that trauma, indicating that trauma was not conjured out of thin air for political agenda… which is not to say such agenda was absent in her timing. It’s glaringly obvious, in fact, that it was present. (Keep in mind that no names were ever formally documented, so there is no evidence that she previously named Kavanaugh. Also no evidence that she didn’t.)

What about the booze?
Dr. Ford says she had one beer. Maybe that is true. Maybe it is not. I promise you, when I partied in my teens, if there was booze available, I did not stop at one and I couldn’t tell you after the fact how many I had. If she had more, then her memory would be altered based on that. And, without searching, I expect there’s scientific evidence saying that booze alters mind function and memory recall. But with or without scientific study, just hang out at such a party and watch them walk and talk, or talk to the victim of drunk driving and we will all agree that booze alters memory and reality. However, it does not eliminate the ability to recall some information with shocking detail.

I was drunk out of my mind in this excerpt from my memoir, yet I recall vividly the kindness of the taxi driver and the grace he spoke into my life that night. Ironically, I do not recall the actual scenes to which I awakened, other than being completely horrified.

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Time will tell… But will it tell the truth?
We have to account for the passing of time. I am a trauma survivor, and I have one heck of a longterm memory. I’ve had people from Mexico corroborate things that I wrote in my memoir; things that even some family members questioned. I was writing from a place of memory that, at times, felt too surreal to be real. But it was real. When I visited Mexico in 2017, I returned to a childhood home where several traumatic events took place. I was five when we left. Yet, forty-three years later, I was able to tell my driver which direction to turn out our lane to drive past Hildebrandt’s home, to the first road left, and to a field on the left, just a short distance down that road, past a creek. My driver called his father to confirm that it was, indeed, my father’s field. It was.

Memories with significance, for me, are deeply rooted. I know them to be true, even while they have that sense of surreal-ness about them. Even so, I know my memories are not perfect. I approached a woman who, as a girl, I recall molesting me. She was shocked when I described an event that happened to her too! She named the girl – some years older than her – who molested her. And from that moment on my certainty about which of the two molested me was forever questioned. I do not, to this day, propose to recall the accurate identity. They had similar features, were both older than me and had access, and at about five there is no way to be 100% certain which of them molested me. But, regardless of any uncertainty, I do know without question that I was molested that day.

If we, who work closely with sexual violence, cannot acknowledge this reality, we will contribute to grave injustices to both the victims and the falsely accused. Because false allegations – whether intentionally or through faulty memory – do happen.

EDIT: A reader brought to my attention a failure to acknowledge what I already acknowledged numerous times on social media, and what I intended to address here but overlooked:

Just as it is possible that Dr. Ford’s memory is not perfect, it is also possible – always possible – that Judge Kavanaugh does not remember that night even if he was there. If he was there, and if he was inebriated, then we must also conclude that what applies to Dr. Ford in the way of faulty memory, also applies to Judge Kavanaugh.

What about Judge Kavanaugh’s anger; does it suggest guilt?
Soon after Judge Kavanaugh gave his testimony, I started to see comments like, “If he was innocent he wouldn’t be so angry”. Wherever that evolves from, it makes no sense. I have confronted many religious sex abusers who were either proven to be guilty, or who at some point admitted guilt. The one response I have never seen from a guilty party is anger. Never. It has always been some form of quiet and calculated defence, some form of deflection, some form of religious justification or denial, or – if absolutely, inescapably caught – then a rush to repent and make things right. (The latter, while maybe not always the case, is a strong clue that there are other victims they don’t want to come forward or be discovered by the allegations going public, therefore the rush). And it has always involved some form of manipulation. At times they start preaching to the victim; “where would you have spent eternity if you had died, knowing all these years I had sinned and you did nothing to help me?” (At which point I interrupt and stop the abuse.) Or, “How can I make this right?”… “I had no idea that is how it felt to them… I thought it was mutual consent…” (Ummm… no… 8-year-olds can’t consent to 4o-year-olds wanting to have sex.) Or, regardless of age, “I didn’t abuse them; they wanted me to do it”… 

The list of deceptions, manipulations is endless. But anger is the one thing that has never manifested in my experience. (And a short study into the workings of a sex offender would quickly explain why that is, but I won’t get into that here.)

I would argue that many of the expressions displayed by Judge Kavanaugh are not only anger, if anger at all. Studying them, there are a few that appear to be anger and an array of conflicted emotions besides, but many show incredible grief. Not the kind of grief that Larry Nassar showed, or that I have seen repeatedly when speaking with both men and women guilty of abusing. There is deep, genuine pain in both of these individuals. What lacks in Judge Kavanaugh’s eyes that is very present in Dr. Ford, is terror. Her eyes seem constantly to dance between terror and numbness or disassociation from reality. Neither hold contempt in the above, though there are several that suggest contempt in Judge Kavanaugh’s expression. (However, as you will see in my further comparison, this is not reliable). Both seem to be pleading for truth to be acknowledge; for their story to be understood.

(Note: Photos such as this are being circulated as evidence that Kavanaugh is angry. So I watched the testimony again, looking for similar expressions, since the likelihood of finding the exact ones is quite unlikely. The next three photos are screenshots I took at between 9.58 minutes and about 10:40 minutes into this Youtube of his testimony: Click here)

(In this photo Judge Kavanaugh is in the middle of saying “Allegations of sexual assault must always be taken seriously. Always”. Yet he looks ‘angry’. Or does he?)
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 7.58.46 PM.png
(In this photo Kavanaugh has just made the statement, at almost exactly 9.59 minutes into the clip, that victims and the accused should both be heard.)
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.10.58 PM(Here Judge Kavanaugh has just said, of his parents, “they’re here today”. He looks yet angrier.)
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.12.55 PM(Here Judge Kavanaugh has just said how hard his mom worked when he was 10).
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.13.35 PM(And here he is addressing the sexual harassment his mom had to overcome and “that so many women faced in the time, and still face today.”)
(H
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.19.05 PM.png(Here Judge Kavanaugh has just said “not even a hint” and just before “a wiff, of an allegation like this” at 11.40 minutes).
Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.18.37 PM(And this final screenshot is at the moment immediately following his statement that there has not even been “whiff, of an allegation like this” at 11.46-47 minutes).

So, I would propose that reading expression without context is not particularly effective. Where he should be angry, he shows less emotion. Where he looks angry in the pictures I screenshots of, he was speaking with emotion and passion that held no anger or reason for anger. There is certainly much emotion, but that should be understandable. And fighting to gain or hold composure has seldom made anyone particularly photogenic and chipper-looking. Let alone emotions under these circumstances, assuming he is innocent.

As for the notion that Judge Kavanaugh is guilty because he got angry, or seemed angry? Utter nonsense. Nothing of that speaks to his guilt. While I would not go so far as to say it speaks to his absolute innocence, I would argue quite emphatically that it certainly does not speak to his guilt. If it speaks to one or the other, I know which I would vote for, but that would be as inappropriate as being certain that Dr. Ford is intentionally deceiving the nation. I may not trust her motives for choosing this moment in time, but would put a generous burden of responsibility for how this played out on whoever leaked the story, if she genuinely played no role in that and had no knowledge of it. On that front, and with the assumption of that being true, and assuming Judge Kavanaugh is indeed innocent, she and Judge Kavanaugh were both victims and both wronged.

Again, assuming her trauma is as real as I believe it is and she sincerely believes the Judge is the offender, and also assuming his innocence (for the sake of argument), that political move did more damage to victims of sexual abuse being heard – especially in historical cases – than any other impact. Judge Kavanaugh, if innocent, will thrive. This will empower the Republicans and all who support them. Dr. Ford, even if telling the truth about the trauma, as I believe she is, will bear the consequences quite personally if at some point it is proven she had the wrong man, or men. In this, assuming the previous sentence is reality, the Democrats deeply wronged both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Dr. Ford’s vulnerability was exploited for political gains, and Judge Kavanaugh falsely accused. While lawsuits are not my recommended usual ‘go to’, assuming this paragraph is accurate, I hope both sue the pants off of whoever got this ball rolling in the way that it rolled.

Those who care for victims will also be cautious about not launching unfounded allegations, or even questionable allegations, for selfish gain. All allegations brought forward in good faith, or believed to be presented in good faith, should be taken seriously, And they should be investigated. If there is failure on the part of those who should investigate to do so, in my opinion (and I recognize it is not a broadly held view), there is a time to expose and go public. In this case there was no attempt at such an investigation, and that is one of the biggest strikes against the credibility of this whole case against Judge Kavanaugh. Any attempt to have it investigated or addressed before going public would have given it much more credibility.

Closing thoughts
I cannot and am not interested in determining innocence or guilt, but those observations are some of the things I cannot ignore. There is strong indication that Dr. Ford was assaulted, and strong indication that Judge Kavanaugh is not the person responsible for that assault. Surmising all manner of things on the sidelines by either side – (ie; the claim that Dr. Ford was paid off, or that Judge Kavanaugh is guilty… well, just because he is and he didn’t even bother to get a lawyer) – those things weaken the arguments of their respective sides and distract from the real issues.

My status on Facebook, after people asked what I think or if I’m following the case, is where I still stand:

If Kavanaugh did what he is accused of – or anything close to it, I think he should own up and apologize to Dr. Ford. If Dr. Ford made up the accusations for political gain/agenda, she should apologize to Kavanaugh and the rest of the world, especially victims of abuse. If the allegations are true and she is using them for political gain, she should apologize to every victim who will not be heard because of this. Because this case will, without question, impact the credibility of the voices of victims, no matter what the outcome.

The problem is, none of us can prove what actually went down, or didn’t – as the case may be, and none of us can prove the heart intent of Dr. Ford.

For those who have asked what I think, that’s what I think.

I see no need to pretend we know as fact the parts that cannot be proven as fact. I see both sides – the conservatives and liberals – making claims that make, while logical, are not grounded in anything provable… at least not yet. I was not there, and you were not there (unless you are one of the few who were), and we are not God. Therefore we do not know with 100% certainty what actually happened.

I shudder to see an innocent man (or woman) accused of sexual assault. And I cringe at a victim not being believed. Both things are wrong. I pray that truth will be revealed. I pray that the corruption behind what is playing out – including any money trails, and political manipulations – will be exposed. I pray that Dr. Ford finds healing; there is no doubt she suffered trauma. And I pray that Judge Kavanaugh, if innocent as he appears, is exonerated from all allegations and goes on to serve well.

My personal position is with truth. That’s all.

Love,
~ T ~

 

 

 

Is church safe for the abused?

Is church a safe place for victim of sexual violence? (Or domestic violence, for that matter. While not my areas of expertise to the extent that sexual violence is, the more I hear, the more I realize the glaring similarities.) I have asked this question for a great long while, and have been asked by survivors. I wish to offer a resounding ‘yes, it’s the safest place on earth for you’. But, I cannot. Sadly. I fear the institutional church is one of the most unsafe places for them. It would not need to be that way. If I am perfectly honest, my advice to those who have suffered sexual abuse would be to never open that door in church. Find a safe place outside those walls, unless your leaders have made it very clear and proactively let you know that they care and will hear you. (There are safe places/pastors, and I could list some, but will refrain. And if you are one such church or leader, thank you. Please don’t take this personal, but recognize you are not the majority, regardless of denomination.)

While (most times) church is not safe for the abused, it is one of the safest places on earth for offenders. So to offenders looking for community and a space to find belonging and acceptance, I recommend church. Almost any church, really, but with some being especially accepting. By virtue of this reality, it cannot be equally safe for survivors. In fact, it cannot be safe for victims at all, as long as preferential treatment exists for offenders. It simply is not possible.

The idealism some churches hold of wanting to be a safe space for both abuse survivor and offender is often an illusion. Most end up advocating for one or the other which is different than ‘being there’ for people. Inevitably, and of necessity, to advocate for one is to disadvantage the other, and church has a way of advocating for offenders. “They are sorry, and can’t undo what they did. They repented, therefore you should forgive. They were tempted by the way you dressed. You threw yourself at him. You flirted with him. It if un-Christ-like to not forgive”.

Blatant advocating for offenders inevitably and effectively silences victims; it is 100% impossible to advocate for both. You can advocate for one and try to point the other for help elsewhere but you cannot advocate for one and offer both help. If they are searching for community, so long as they remain silent about abuse, church is a great place for victims to find community, but it does require excluding that very significant experience. Therefore is not safe.

When  someone does bring allegations forward and victim or offender needs to leave a congregation, almost without fail it is the (alleged) victim who leaves. And often they simply give up on church, but more importantly, many give up on their faith journey. Yet, ironically, many still long for that safe place within church, and a safe place to grow in faith, but it simply is not there for them.

So what is the answer?

Advocating for truth would be a brilliant start. Just truth. Just brilliant. Truth in every circumstance.  But we don’t know what truth is, or what really happened – we were not there, we are not God, so we cannot judge the offender. Just truth, without rationalizing. Without saying, if it was my son I’d want to believe he was innocent, and I’d want everyone to believe he is innocent. It fascinates me how many are comfortable with asking that question – what if it was my son – but how few are comfortable asking, “what if it was my granddaughter… my daughter who was raped/groped/molested?” I would dare to say if we are going to ask the first, we better ask the second too, and really pause to consider what that would mean… especially if you happened to walk in as it was happening.

If you choose the path of believing the offender, by virtue of that stance, you immediately say, “the victim is guilty of lying, misconstruing facts” or some such thing.

What if, instead, we sat ‘near’ and listened with the heart… very near; near enough to feel the pain? What if we honoured the suffering and cared for them without determining whether she/he is lying or not? What if we simply acknowledged pain?  And, for the offender, what if we ‘entered in’ and gave them a place to come clean and confess? And what if we walked with them simultaneously toward grace and consequences, if they confess, thus offering true freedom?

By releasing the accused immediately from guilt and judgement, we automatically sentence the victim to guilt and judgement. And if the accused are indeed guilty, we have sentenced both to bondage a life of struggle and injustice. We’ve also done two things God hates: acquitted the guilty, and condemned the innocent (Proverbs 17:15). He hates both. So we are right to pause when we hear an allegation, but we are not right to make a judgement call either for innocence or guilt. It is our duty to get our hands bloody and feet dirty, so to speak, and ‘enter in’ with both.

The church community has not done well with this on either front. We have made quick judgements – usually against the victims – and in this we have sinned against God.  I have spent 8 years standing in the gap, working with both victims and offenders, making myself available 6 or 7 days many weeks. It has been lonely, in many ways, but it has been more fulfilling than lonely. And it has been sheer joy watching the downtrodden rise up and find their identity, their voice, their Hope. It has been church, for me, more than any gathering I’ve attended anywhere. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Hopefully with less mistakes. But I’d do it either way.

I say that to say, I acknowledge it is hard to care well for victims. I know it is easier to look the other way than to get into that messy real of pain and suffering, and the brutal injustice. But it is possible, and we (church) could do better. We must do better, if we want to name the name of Jesus.

****

We have a conference  in Lewisburg, PA), in a few weeks, where the abused gather, and feel understood. When it’s over, people often linger a great long while after. Sometimes just ‘resting’. Sometimes sitting and chatting with one another. Sometimes weeping. Sometimes praying together.

We don’t decide if alleged abusers are guilty. We don’t accuse anyone of lying or making up stories. We simply offer compassion and love.

That’s safety. That’s what it means to be understood.

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 10.01.55 PM

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 10.02.25 PM

2018_Oct_PA_Brochure_Inside

The Oct4 Training Day is for those wishing to support victims
Itinerary :

SESSION ONE: The role of Restorative Justice in Addressing Crime (Mike Yoder)
SESSION TWO: Understanding Victims’ Needs (Trudy Metzger)
SESSION THREE: Protecting Against Secondary Trauma (Trudy Metzger)
SESSION FOUR: Setting Healthy Boundaries When Working with Victims (Trudy Metzger)

To register, visit: http://www.generationsunleashed.com/events

****

Wishing you blessings this week, praying for peace and hope on your journey, and the courage to trust God on your healing journey. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Together, we are ‘church’, and together we will create a safe place for the abused to struggle, to worship, to heal.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedophilia; a sexual orientation? And if churches protect molesters, should society overlook pedophilia?

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.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

UNSPOKEN HOPE

Hope rises.
Silence falls.
Hope shatters.
Her tongue cut out.
Pieces on the floor.
Pieces of her, of him… of me, of them
Strewn here and there

Walking here and there,
People stepping on
Pieces on the floor.
Tall people. strong people. Powerful.
Crushing flesh pieces on the floor.
Flesh, dragging here and there.
Red.
Dry blood on black shoes.

“Only trust Him… Only trust Him… Only trust Him now…
He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now…”

Songs.
Prayers.
Tears
Helpless children.
Raped.
Used.
Cast away.

“Only trust Him… Only trust Him… Only trust Him now…
He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now…”

Children weep.
Wail.
Hell licks their feet.

People walking.
Away.
Where has Jesus gone?
Why do angels weep dry tears?

Trust withers.
Silence falls.
Hope…

Dead.

Religion.

Hell wins.

;

Truth rises,
Tongue cut out
Oh hell be warned!
Death gives birth to unmatched power!
Wordless.
Silent.
Thunder shakes the strongest tower.

No more politics.
No flow’ry speech.
Truth will stand in ruthless silence,
Shouting without sound
Crying from the highest mountain
And all will hear
As, Truth, forced to silent grave,
Rises from the ground.

No white flags.

No powerless surrender.

Silence moves
Stealthy
Wise
Calculated.

Invisible hands,
Wrapped about my throat.
I cannot speak.

But I have my sword.

Truth.

;

Jesus walks into the room.

What will you say now?

Did silence pave His way?

Or was it the voice of those who cried against the norms:

Make a path in the place of death… the wilderness… where nothing of life has ever grown.
Where children’s souls are laid bare by reckless men!
Make way!
Behold! He comes! The Son of God! Make way
!”

He enters.
Holding no regard for rules.
Honouring no politics.
Crying louder for the lost
the wounded
the weak.
Standing silent only to accusation.
Crying out against their sin,
He eats of the forbidden grain.

I eat. 
With no regard for silence.
Breaking all the rules
of polite society.
Hearts are not healed
by
U
N
S
P
O
K
E
N
HOPE.

*************************************************************************************

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Trust, disruption, obstreperous victims, repentant offenders, pastors in prison, the church & the law, and finding a new way forward

“Trust Me” ~ GOD ~
When God says “Trust Me”, and you do it, and then everything in your human nature wants to trust people – good people – and all the good advice they give. Advice that collides with what you know God has spoken, the most tempting thing as a human is to cave and cater to human reasoning and logic and explanations – on either side, whether the ‘most spiritual’ or the ‘most humanistic’. But just contemplating it, causes your spirit to rise up ‘in remembrance of what He has spoken. “Trust Me,” He says again. So you return to the place of discomfort and wait. Alone. Or at least feeling alone. And you do this because you choose to trust Him, above all.

Obstreperous Victims, and Repentant Offenders
I’ve said it many times. I live in a space where both sides collide – where one force pulls this way on me and the other pulls that way – living between two sides in opposition. But I intentionally choose this place where generally neither ‘side’ is particularly pleased with me, and I do it because I genuinely believe it is one of the most critical aspects of breaking the cycle of abuse in churches.

I *advocate* for victims, and victims only. But I long for the healing and personal redemption of both victims and offenders. I hold tenaciously to the truth. And sometimes I have it wrong. But it will not be some human that convinces me I have it wrong, based on reasoning, excuses, explanations or any other thing. It will be God, and His people who take me to the place of my error and show me. Until He does that – directly or through His people – I will not say and do the things that please the crowds. I cannot live with myself if I do that.

And individuals on both sides of almost any situation I am in – whether a ‘situation’ or my day to day ministry – try often to persuade me to see it their way, or to “do this or that” or “do (whatever that thing is) this way or that”. Lovely people. Kind people. Well-meaning people. And all they want is peace. But true peace comes from letting latent and buried conflict rise to the surface, and erupt – sometimes into messy and chaotic ‘explosions’ – so that the ‘lie about peace’ is exposed, and true peace can be sought. Buried conflict presents as peace, but, alas, it is not. It is ongoing unacknowledged destruction. People’s spirits die. The next generation pays the price for the previous generations’ *peace* – which indeed was not peace – and the cycle continues. And most are content with this illusion of peace, because the alternative shakes things at a place that is uncomfortable, and takes the messy to places many cannot handle.

On the ‘Healing for All’ Side and Disrupting Norms
I advocate for victims. I believe working in cooperation with the law is ideal. And I fight for the healing and redemption of both victims and offenders. Because whichever piece (or ‘side’) we neglect to bring healing, is the side that will drag the sexual violence into the next generation. On the one side it goes forward through coverup and silence. And on the other side it goes on through unhealed trauma. It cannot be about this side or that, in any conflict or trauma, if real meaningful and lasting change is to come, and the cycle broken. But that middle place is at times a lonely place to stand and fight, with just a few who stand together. It is a place of fighting for the past (those who already were victimized or who already offended), and simultaneously fighting for the future to break the cycle. It is a place of disrupting norms, disrupting the illusion of peace, and of standing for two unpopular and polar opposite positions.

For this reason I am uncomfortable at a personal level with a vindictive approach to exposing corruption. But I will not silence voices and police what is said, unless it becomes directly abusive. I tend, rather, to counter it with what I believe. That anger is the result of generations of not being heard, and is linked to deep, deep pain and trauma. And pain demands to be acknowledged, one way or another. The sooner we all learn that leaning in and really hearing those devastated by abuse, rather than writing them off as bitter, the better off we will be and the more effectively we will break this dreadful scourge, and end (at least a large portion) of this horrible cycle. Because bitterness turns to hope and grace when the love of Jesus touches it, and it is not done through formula. It is done through relationship. And once that trusted relationship has been built, you’d be amazed what you earn permission to say to someone to help them heal! But your goal has to be simply loving them, not some other agenda.

It seems ‘easier’ for many Christians to deal with offenders and give them a place in Christian community because of this messy process of hearing victims who have been silenced. (And I would propose that victims who are heard immediately, seldom, if ever, get as dark and as messy as those in religious communities who have been silenced, blamed and shamed).  For offenders, all that is required for them to be embraced in Christian community  is for them to say “I’m sorry”. That’s it. If they are sorry – genuine or just skilled at appearing that way; and both do happen – they are back in. Immediately they are surrounded, applauded amid tears of joy at the ‘prodigal returned’. After that, whether they play the victim who is hated, or the gracious martyr ‘sinner come home’ who acknowledges that the victim rightfully feels negatively toward them, in either case, the offender finds a place more easily than the ‘bitter victim’ does. Power is more easily integrated with Christianity than messy pain, and it requires little investment, if any, by the community. Victims, on the other hand, need care, compassion, a listening ear, someone to speak gentle truth, and so much more, on every level, than most offenders. So offenders are often more welcomed than victims, for many reasons.

I would like to see both – the life of the victim and the life of the offender – redeemed. Each, individually, restored to God and peace. Each with the support in the church that they need.

A Place of Safety for the Victimized
The victim given a safe place to acknowledge and experience the pain  in its messy stages, while being guided to wholeness and redemption. To be allowed to grieve and mourn, without being labeled or thought insane. They’re not insane. In fact, the more they are allowed to honestly grieve, the more whole they will become. Rather than judging as bitter, we need to lean in and hear all that has been silenced and shut down, for many generations, behind that uncomfortable expression of grief. And the victim being protected from unnecessary upheaval, to the point of asking the offender to attend elsewhere if the victim cannot cope with their presence. Forgiveness to be the path we walk with them not the demand we place on them. The latter is damaging an shuts down the spirit, the former is relational and life-giving.

Speaking of bitterness and victims’ anger, I asked Mike Yoder of Milton PA this week if he finds many victims of abuse wanting revenge or retribution. (Mike is “trained in STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) and has also received training in Restorative Justice and Community Peacebuilding through the Center for Justice and Peace at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VAH”, and is passionate about impacting the epidemic of sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities). He said no, but with a disclaimer and an exception of ‘unless they tried to speak out and their voices have been silenced’. (That is as close to verbatim as I can recall his statement.) This lines up with my experience. Victims generally want offenders to take ownership without excuse, and courageously face whatever the consequences and fallout is of transparency and repentance. (Because that truly does symbolize repentance, to be willing to face consequences. In fact, I would argue if self-protection is still present, repentance is not complete.) Many victims have no desire for retribution or revenge. Many don’t even want their offenders to go to prison, and will even actively try to prevent such a thing, unless they believe there is a risk of reoffending, in which case they may actively seek to have the offender imprisoned. This is not for their own good, but for the protection of potential victims. Countless victims have said to me that if they were absolutely certain there was zero risk of reoffending, they would want nothing to do with the legal process. So the notion and judgement that most victims are part of an angry mob wanting to get even or cause pain, is highly inaccurate. So that mentality needs to shift.

Does the Offender Have a Place in Church and God’s Kingdom?
Yes, but not behind the pulpit.
For the offender, there must be both encouragement to repent, and permission to really repent – King David style, in sackcloth and ashes, with nothing held back, and no excuses left for sins committed. They need to be encouraged to face consequences with courage. It is the coward who assaults an innocent and defenceless child or vulnerable adult, and then thinks he/she doesn’t deserve the consequences for that crime. And it is a group of cowards who stand in the way of such courage rather than encouraging the offender to face those consequences, and daring to walk alongside. The enablers who play the role of protecting, are often good-hearted naive men and women who are of deep faith but have little understanding of predators – different than those who offend and then come forward and seek help, and change – and predators know how to play on the emotions and compassion of this crowd. The offender convinces this compassionate crowd that they were helpless in the face of struggle and meant no harm, or they “only did ___, not ____” and list a ‘small offence’ in contrast with rape. Or they may even say that the child intentionally tempted them. (Yes, I’ve heard this too often!) That offender is not helpless in the face of temptation, and not nearly as helpless in the face of a prison sentence as the child he/she assaulted. For grown men and women to band together and cover for such a person, or downplay their crime, is destructive and cowardly. Adults have physical, mental and spiritual advantages when facing consequences that the child (or vulnerable adult) did not have in that moment of victimization.  That said, I would like to see healthy cooperation with the law to support offenders in this process so that redemption is possible for them, and the risk of reoffending is decreased. That is in everyone’s best interest.

Along with this ‘place to repent’, we need to believe that transformation is possible (I do believe that it is, as do many other professionals) but with the balance of recognizing that we have no right to impose risk on the vulnerable. An adult who has molested children should not be given positions of power or leadership over children. It is absurd to think this is wise, and it is the wrong place to prove that transformation has happened. It is wrong to impose that risk on children and the vulnerable, and it is wrong to place the offenders in such a position of temptation/risk. I may be a recovered alcoholic, but becoming a bartender to prove my freedom from addiction is foolishness. Even more so when that addiction imposes risk on innocent, helpless or vulnerable individuals.

There is a difference in situations where teens and children have molested and gotten help. First of all, in most places such knowledge cannot be made public. Secondly, in cases I have worked, many teens who offended came forward on their own seeking help. And statistics indicate that teens who get help are most unlikely to reoffend. Even so, I know of teen offence cases where those young offenders have grown up to self-impose boundaries and accountability for everyone’s protection, using the ‘buddy system’ to ensure no one is ever at risk, and that they are never tempted or falsely accused. There is great wisdom in this. And, whether teens or adults, we should always believe that transformation is possible, and be equally committed to not taking risks or imposing risks on others, by using healthy boundaries to protect everyone. This is the responsibility of families, church leaders, ministry leaders (and, by law, businesses, to an extent and in some places), and is in the best interest of all.

The “I am trustworthy, they are not” mentality
I am amazed at how many adults have said to me that they don’t believe such transformation is possible, and it doesn’t matter if the offender is a youth or adult. It’s not possible. They insist that the offences of all who have offended by publicized, even if they were minors, and heavy boundaries imposed. (I’ve worked with several situations where 5 to 7 year olds were demonized for inappropriate touch. That, in my opinion, is another form of child abuse and is highly inappropriate. As is spanking the ‘offending’ party. But that’s another blog for another day.) When these individuals push this aggressive agenda, I sometimes ask if they ever offended sexually, as a pre-teen or teen, and the answer sometimes is, “Yes, but….” They make exceptions for themselves, because they know they: 1.) came forward on their own (or) 2.) only did it because, through the abuse they suffered, they were taught to reenact it (or) 3.) only did it until they understood what sex was (or) 4.) it’s obvious ‘my offender’ isn’t sorry, because he/she makes excuses (all the while forgetting they are making excuses as well)… and the list goes on. (I inject here that, depending on the conversation, it is perfectly appropriate to ask someone if they have offended but only on the condition that the individual asking is willing to answer the same question. If you molested as a teen and are not transparent about it, you have no authority or business to be holding others accountable. That’s hypocrisy, as is holding them to a higher standard in any way.) The truth is, if one offender can be transformed or rehabilitated, then we need to believe it is possible for others, and it is pride that holds oneself higher (or better) than another. It doesn’t mean that we have to get cozy with our offenders and pretend like it never happened, but we do need to allow for ‘them’ to also change their ways. (Again, I reiterate, while never putting minors and the vulnerable at risk to prove that ‘work of grace’ or transformation in the offender. That is one of the consequences that a humble and repentant offender will accept. And those who do accept it, are the least likely to offend because they don’t place themselves in a position of risk.)

Regarding Pastors/Leaders and the Duty to Report
I admit, I feel an element of relief at seeing the law hold leaders accountable for not reporting, because of the incredible damage the silence has done to victims, and to the Christian community. I am equally relieved to have both secular and Christian media paying attention to the problem of sexual abuse among us, and the problem of churches covering it up. However, while I wouldn’t in any way interfere with a prison sentence for such a leader, on this front I hold a somewhat controversial personal position in that I don’t like the idea of having hundreds of leaders put behind bars for this failure unless they insist on their own innocence, and there is no reason to believe they will protect going forward. Where leaders get a revelationeven if it is inspired by pressure from the lawI am inclined to work cooperatively with them. Earlier today, Pastor Dale Ingraham – who is my personal ministry pastor and, together with his wife Faith, founded Speaking Truth in Love Ministries – and I had a lengthy conversation addressing this topic (as well as that of teen offences in closed communities), and we agree that there needs to be a healthy process for transitioning from the old way (covering up and silencing) to leaders embracing transparency, accountability. Meeting the leaders ‘where they are at’, if they so much as show interest in learning to respond well to abuse, rather than pushing for imprisonment, seems redemptive and critical in breaking cycles. We are both interested in helping leaders in this process, and supporting them in a restorative approach to dealing with past coverups and failure to report, as it is most likely to result in positive outcomes all around, going forward. (I read this to Pastor Dale prior to publishing)

The exposure – through media and law –  will reveal the extent of the problem, much as the story in Spotlight and the exposure of sexual abuse in Catholic churches is influencing greater accountability and transparency among them. And restorative approaches to dealing with these leaders will most effectively turn the tide across our culture and bring positive change. And ultimately – Pastor Dale and Faith and I agree – our goal is to break the cycle and bring positive change. Where cover-up continues and offenders are not held accountable, prison is an excellent short-term consequence, but fails to influence long-term positive outcomes.

A Segue: Our Legal System & An Alternative
That’s the spiritual/church/religious side of it. From a legal system perspective, the truth is the system isn’t equipped to work well with sexual violence. It is faulty and the only thing it seems to offer is getting offenders off the street for a time after which they return with an increased likelihood of offending. In this way it contributes to the problem, albeit not as much as religious cover-ups, from my perception of things. So, somehow these two things need to change, ideally simultaneously. At the same time as the church stops covering up for offenders and preventing consequences, we need to find healthier ways of working proactively and in cooperation with the law, even while the system for handling sex crimes is questioned. Here, from my observation, we need a new way of working with cases. Sexual abuse is one crime in which the criminal is often very closely related to the victim, though not always, and in which the arbitrary process of imposing the law on both parties can do a lot of damage to the victim, as his/her voice is lost in the process. It offers only the comfort of the offender being behind bars, if the case ends up being one of the few in which the offender ends up prosecuted. (Based on information provided by StatCan, between 2009 and 2014, if an accused is identified in 300 of 500 (3×100 of 5×100), the end result is that in approximately 129 cases charges are laid, 63.21 would go to court, 17.04 lead to a conviction, and in the end, 9.54 of the 300 are placed in custody. That’s a pretty low percent of convictions, meaning most who are charged, and almost half of those convicted, are never incarcerated.) This, alone, leads me to believe that we can be far more effective in partnership with the law than to leave the law to its own devices, or to expect the religious system to deal with abuse, when both are currently clearly ineffective.

For this reason, one of my dreams and passions and brainstorms is that, much like Child Protective Service organizations, there be an alternative to the police force – albeit one that works in cooperation with the law and within the confines of the law – to handle sex abuse cases. The more specialized the team, the more sensitivity there will be toward victims, and the more likely it is that offenders will be truly ‘rehabilitated’ and given ongoing healthy accountability and support to prevent re-offending. These things, as part of reintegration into community, are among the most effective and necessary steps in preventing recidivism. Like every other addiction, isolation and loneliness increase the risk. Therefore, the way we are most accustomed to responding – by alienating, shaming-without-redemption (because it is healthy to be ashamed of such crime), and excluding from community – are contributing to the problem.

What the church is doing in most cases is an epic fail, and no one can convince me it is the Jesus Way or God’s heart. It’s not. And what the law has to offer is sadly just as inadequate. So, somehow we have to transform these two ways of responding to sexual crimes. And it is my prayer that this will come.

A Place in the Middle, and a Path to be Pursued
It is the thing for which I advocate, and for which I stand in the middle – that place between two opposing sides – and long to help both sides, while never compromising truth, justice, mercy and love. Calling out abuses, injustice, coverups, abuse of power and the like, and never silencing the victims’ pain even if it is entirely uncomfortable to hear their anger (yet not endorsing abusive attacks), and believing offenders can change. yet never compromising on the need for consequences and healthy boundaries even if the offender is completely repentant, and then working for the greater good…  this, I believe, is key to a path forward.

And that is the path I seek to walk. At a leadership level, it is a path of being held accountable, and holding others accountable – and those leaders who are willing to commit to such transparency are the only leaders I wish to work closely with, even while allowing for failure in that goal. A path of standing firm and honouring the voice of God when those around insist you choose their particular path or condemn the path God set before you. It is a path that is groundbreaking, in this field of sexual violence, and is therefore one of failure and stumbling. Therefore it must also be a path of repentance, in which I humbly acknowledge “I have sinned’, when God reveals – either directly or through other godly voices (and dare I add, through relationally ‘present’ individuals who are not agenda driven) – that we have done wrong. (I throw this disclaimer in because I get advice from absolute strangers – even people I’ve never seen or heard of before – and while I listen and hear them, I do not take every criticism to heart, or adjust my position/belief at every ‘word of wisdom’ or ‘message God told me to give’.)

Truth is, even from people I know and have personal relationships, I can get two messages on any given day, both devout Christians who have a ‘word from God’, and the two messages are polar opposites. I am then supposed to decide which one is the true word and follow it, I suppose. But often they are opinion-based ‘words from God’ – advice that clearly supports one agenda or the other – and when I hold them up to ‘the JESUS Way’, neither is inherently wrong or right. Sometimes the difference is whether the person sharing ‘the word’ is endorsing Anabaptist non-resistant views, the Apostle Paul confronting Peter in public views, or some other personal opinion.

I choose to take my counsel from those nearest – those in my inner circle I never disregard – as well as those who I may never have met, who clearly are not agenda-driven, who reflect the heart of Jesus consistently (not perfectly). Those who listen, really listen…. Those who obviously and actively pursue God, truth, peace, justice and mercy… with love. These are the voices that I value most, whether they agree with me or not, because these are among the things that matter most to God. And it is my heart to value what God values.

So I press forward and onward…. thankful for grace. And I wait for God to speak…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018