I have the right to be bitter; I was molested… And the Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 1)

The Crime and the Calling
Standing against sexual abuse and violence is a noble and godly thing to do. It really is. And I applaud anyone who does so with a pure heart. Because I cannot think of many topics that stir deeper feelings than child molestation. And rightfully so. What is more horrendous than an innocent child or young person stripped of sexual innocence by an adult? I can’t think of a thing, really, that does the thing to my stomach that such a story does.

Especially now, as a married woman who understands what sex was supposed to be in the first place, as designed by God; a beautiful and fun bonding between husband and wife. For an adult to impose such a thing, and impose a life-sentence of struggle on an innocent child… to rob that victim of unhindered marital joy…

Even writing about it, like this, creates inner angst and tension on behalf of that child that the makes me want to vomit. And that’s not exaggerating. That’s how the mind and body should respond, with powerful resistance, against such a thing. And the instinct to protect children should rise, immediately, to the surface.

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The Danger in Fighting Against Abuse and Violence
But that is the very thing that makes it such a complex thing to stand against. Those feelings, legitimate and justified, must be acknowledged but cannot be the driving force, in and of themselves; there has to be a deeper goal to be effective. Those feelings must not be it, lest we move out of hate and bitterness. Because then the very thing we fight against, gains power over us, and makes us slaves to it. When we become bitter and hate-filled, and out to make the offender(s) pay, on our terms, a toxicity sets in that does nothing–not one little thing–to protect victims or change the world.

Bitterness is counterproductive in every way. Besides rendering your voice empty and irrelevant to those in positions to help change the world, its toxic poison will suck your soul dry faster than any hurt imposed on you. Every time. And not only that, it will suck dry those around you, if they don’t leave before it poisons them. In either case, it will leave you empty and friendless, or empty and lacking healthy support. It’s not worth it.

As Believers, What Do We Reach For?
There are good and positive things that can be done in dealing with molestation, without turning to the venom of destruction and the poison that is so prone to dribble from our lips. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it. I’ve lost sight, in the past, of what my heart really longs for in all of this; redemption, justice, boundaries, mercy, truth and ultimately restoration with God… even in situations where the last thing that ever could happen (or should, for that matter) is reconciliation between offender and victim.

In religious settings it seems often there is a dreadful imbalance in situations where an abuser is exposed, caught or turns himself or herself in. It is either carefully guarded and covered up in denial, or the individual is abandoned and thrown under the bus. Most often it is the former. And, to the latter, many ‘justice seekers’ would shout a hearty ‘Yay… serves them right’ and jump on the bandwagon that finally someone is listening.

At the risk of receiving hate mail, I will say publicly that I think both are corrupt; both are wrong. That’s my view. Justice and truth without mercy is barbaric. Mercy without truth and justice is endorsement of evil. As I watch the two sides play out around me, in various situations, I think surely there must be a better way! Surely there is some humanity, somewhere. Humanity that says, “Enough is enough!” to the senseless victimization, and humanity that says, “we are all broken and need help, so we’re going to get you that help.”

And then, beyond humanity to Christ-likeness, that says, “Someone died for my sins; He died for yours too.” To offer the grace and love of Jesus to my offender is the most freeing thing I have ever done. Freeing for me.

To not share that truth with others, is to keep them in bondage. And yet, as angry voices–and yes, they should be angry–shout around me, some with bitterness and hate, I find myself retreating, publicly, for fear of tomatoes… or worse, thrown at me. It is not the healthy anger that makes me cringe, it is the hate and offensiveness. And I am not alone. Other victims have written me, saying they are afraid to publicly state they have forgiven, for fear of being judged or ‘hated on’.

What Then is the Solution?
While abuse angers many of us, as it should, the greatest headway in change will come from calm, composed persistence. There is a time to expose, but doing so with venom will stop the ears of people we want to speak to; it is overwhelming. Furthermore, if there are defenses already in place–take for example a pastor, parent or other person of influence–where the person feels it is an attack on them, the attack and raging approach will trigger subconscious response–either tuning out or defending.

An approach that lacks attack, and rather appeals to the intellect, the heart and compassion of individuals in positions of influence, will produce a much healthier response. Reasonable dialogue is necessary, and exploring healthy solutions without demanding the heads of abusers on a platter, will go much further than raging and bitterness. And if we want to really make a difference, then we need to manage those feelings with honour.

What Can the Church Do?
When a molestation case comes to light in a church, there is inevitably much upheaval. In 2014 I was hired by a church several hours away, to work with a very difficult situation. I learned more in a few months, about what pastors and leaders go through, than I had learned in the preceding 44 years of my life.

When a pastor cares for his church and wants nothing but the best for everyone, abuse and molestation allegations cause heartbreaking struggle. When the offender owns up, admitting to the crimes, and it is confirmed reality and not allegations, the truth is harsh and offensive. The crimes need to be dealt with, and the person needs someone to walk with them, and the victims need to be protected along with all vulnerable church attendees, children in particular. How is a pastor to do all of those things, and not be harshly judged by some, if not all involved and aware?

Some want the offender banned from attending. Some want the church to ‘forgive and move on’. Others want boundaries and protections in place. Some want it taken to the law. Others say that’s not biblical, even when the laws require it. The latter, for me, is not optional; a crime must be reported. The Bible says that the law is for the lawbreaker, and if that lawbreaker happens to sit on a church pew, he or she is no less a lawbreaker.

How to handle incorporating the abuser, or banning, as the case may be, is something each church family must fumble their way through. Each situation and solution presents complexities that make a black-and-white-blanket-solution nigh impossible to implement. And while the protection of victims should alway take precedent over the abuser, I hesitate to judge harshly when I see a church trying to care for both.

I say that as someone who instigated inappropriate sexual interaction with a peer in my early teens. Sure, she came into agreement before we did anything, but I will always see her as the victim. I was a few months older and I suggested it, therefore I feel I need to own that. To this day, it is more important for me to know that she is cared for than to have my pride protected. She deserves that; I made her vulnerable. And any offender who steals innocence should pursue the well-being of the victim, over their own comfort. It’s the least any of us can do who have wounded another.

So what, then, should a church do? What are some options?

(To Be Continued…)

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

By The Light of The Moon: When Childhood Sexual Abuse & Violence Impact Marriage

Last night, as I crawled in bed after posting my blog to WordPress, I told Tim, “So I didn’t tell my readers that you kissed me the night you asked me to be your girlfriend.”

Rather than say, “Thank you!”, or “Good!”, he said, “Uhhh… What did you tell them?” It was dark, so I could not see his eyes, and any hesitance that might have been there, but I could hear it. He, on the other hand, couldn’t see the twinkle in mine. I gave him a quick overview. (He used to read all my blogs, but I’m writing too many, and he can’t keep up any more.)

Tonight, he asked what that first night was like, with his lips resting on my forehead. (The memories are more vague for him.) I had him stand up so I could show him. Afterwards, I asked him if I have his blessing and approval to continue telling our story this way, and he said, yes. With that, I will pick up where I left off….

After Tim asked me to be his girlfriend, we had at least one date night each week. We spoke on the phone most days, if not every day, and spent our Sundays together. We couldn’t get enough of each other. We loved quiet times. Reading together. And talking about everything from science, to church and religion, to personal faith. And pretty much anything in between.

Early on we talked about our boundaries, the ways we would protect our relationship from premarital sex. One of the things that made us most vulnerable is that, during most of our courtship, we spent a lot of time together ‘alone’, just the two of us.

Having left Howard and Alice’s home, where I lived for almost two years, we didn’t have a family in my life, to be part of our journey. It was up to us, and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I had made in the past. We wanted to protect our courtship.

It was appropriate that, early in our relationship, we walked The Mill Race again, and sat down at the dam. It was a beautiful spring night. The moon was out. The stars twinkled in the sky. Tim sat on the retaining wall, dangling his legs over the edge. I sat on the wall, my knees pulled up, my skirt falling around me, as I leaned back against him. Always the tomboy, jeans would have been so much more suitable.

We discussed why we would wait until marriage to have sex. Why it mattered, to us. It wasn’t about rules and regulations. It had nothing to do with the potential of church discipline. And not even biblical guidelines, in and of themselves, though that was ultimately the driving force.

We talked about legacy that night. About what we wanted our children to have and know. How important it was, to us, for them to know they were the result of love, within the confines of marriage. That they would never wonder if they were wanted or loved, and even why their parents were married.

We made a commitment that night, before God, and for the sake of our children, to live a life of holiness, and abstinence until marriage.

By the light of the moon, we discussed our future children, and our dreams. Even baby names. We agreed that our first daughter would be Alicia, a name I had fallen in love with in Pennsylvania, when I met Alicia Mullet (Weaver). She was a young woman of great character, whom I admired, though she was a few years younger than I. Furthermore, Alicia is the French version of Alice, and I wanted to use the name of the amazing woman who had changed the course of my life.

Tim agreed immediately to the name Alicia, and added ‘Gayle’, after his mother. And so it was decided that our first daughter would be Alicia Gayle. If ever we struggled with the temptation to cross those boundaries sexually, we would remind each other of the legacy we wanted to give her.

On another night earlier on, at that same location, Tim and I had talked until 5:00 in the morning. We started off outside, but as the night grew cold, we moved into his car, intending to leave but caught in conversation. That night I told him my story, starting in early childhood, the best that I knew how to tell it. Between my telling, and him asking questions, that took up most of the night. He told me his story as well, which took maybe thirty minutes, at the most.

As I invested my heart more deeply, fear and panic began to torment me. Unlike the previous relationship, where my then boyfriend would go back to Pennsylvania and I wouldn’t see him for several weeks, Tim stayed. It was a constant and growing relationship, and that terrified me.

What if this was ‘it’, ‘the one’… Somehow I knew he was, and with ‘the knowing’, panic of giving myself to a man tormented me. The conflicting emotion of feeling this new depth of love, in contrast with that terror, drove me to near madness.

Off and on, for several months, when Tim left to go home I sat in my little blue Z24, jamming Michael W. Smith, David Meece, and Stephen Curtis Chapman, as loudly as possible. The volume was to drown out my screaming, as I released the stress of whatever was happening inside of me. As I screamed, and cried, literally at the top of my lungs, I pounded the steering wheel, careful not to hit the horn. I didn’t need neighbours to come and check on me. I was afraid I’d be committed into a psyche ward, when in reality, I just needed to release the trauma of the past.

I always say that the evil that ‘goes in’, or is imposed on us, must come out. And the inevitable trauma resulting from that evil also must come out. Those nights screaming did more good for me than any counselling ever did. This is not to say that counselling is not good–it also helped me–but I needed to release years of agony that had remained trapped, agony that sparked this terror of relationship.

I didn’t tell Tim that this was happening. I had no idea how to tell him. And, honestly, I didn’t fully understand what caused it. I just knew that I felt ‘hell’ inside of me, and that this hell had to come out. This ‘routine’ was the only way I knew to release it.

And so went the rise and fall of being in love with a man I wanted to be able to give my heart to. He was kind and gentle, and I didn’t doubt that, when the time was right, and if he asked, that I would say, ‘Yes’. But the process was an endurance test.

The one fear, that I could identify easily, was that he would eventually see how broken I really was, and leave me. If that was going to happen, I wanted it to happen sooner than later. That decision made, I decided to help him end it, and in the process, end my torment…

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Nobody’s Doormat

I have been pondering ‘authority’ in relationships and the need to set healthy boundaries. Specifically when the person with whom we need to establish those boundaries is someone who has authority over us, or is in a co-leadership position with us. It is a sensitive thing at the best of times, and more so when someone in authority over us violates us and boundaries need defining.

We all have the ‘right’ to be respected. It is not just a human rights issue—it is a right that God has given us. He made us in His image, to reflect His heart and His likeness. Each of us, in our individuality, is made to uniquely represent Him, here on earth. This is true whether we are Christians or not.  The effectiveness and impact of that, whether we allow that God-likeness to flow through us or not, is to an extent dependent on our faith in Him, but regardless of our beliefs, God’s likeness is in us.

When we function under leadership and authority, whether that person is a boss, a father or mother, a husband or any other leader, we should expect to be treated with dignity and respect. When that doesn’t happen, we have a choice; we choose silence and allow victimization—usually ending up feeling sorry for ourselves, or we confront (hopefully gently so that we are heard), or sometimes we may need to first reach out for help. We may not initially have the strength to confront, or, alternatively, we may come off too strong because of personal defences.

Years ago, as a young woman working as a secretary, someone in leadership asked me to do something illegal—I was to ‘fudge the books’ to make things look differently than they really are.  I was the person that signed off on documents for the government reports and to do so would have not only risked the company being slapped with a huge fine, but I would have been responsible.  In submitting documentation I always signed the typical ‘I confirm that the information contained in the report is true…’ and to sign that, knowing I was intentionally doctoring reports, was not something I could do.

However, because it was a leader who asked me to do this, I was in a conundrum. Should I defy my leader and not say anything? Should I do what I was asked? Should I confront?

Me, being me, I opted for confrontation. It’s not that I like confrontation, but silence, either way, would have made me feel victimized and I don’t tend towards accepting that role.

I walked into my boss’s office, defences high, and asked him to explain exactly what it is he wants me to do. Again, he outlined the exact steps I was to take in reporting.

“But that’s illegal,” I said.

He mumbled something that didn’t support me doing the right thing and, without a further thought, I leaned over his desk, handed him the reports and told him, quite boldly, “It’s illegal, and if you want it done that way, you will have to go do it yourself!”

Stunned, he looked at me without a word. After the pause, he told me to go do the right thing.

Back at my desk, my heart was still beating like a drum in my chest. Had I really just done that? My head was spinning. I was proud of myself for taking a stand but felt bad… almost sick, over how I had done it. And yet, it had been the truth.

Maximizing Impact

My boss’s son, having heard the exchange, walked over to my desk. A quiet gentleman, only a few years older than me, he spoke with great wisdom a lesson I have taken with me for life, “Trudy, what you have to say is often bang on. If you would learn to say it differently, it would be easier to receive and would have more impact.”

I don’t remember if those were his exact words, but they were pretty close. That advice has changed the way I address leadership. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren..”

In my pursuit of healthy boundaries I made some pretty big mistakes. And that’s okay. I was learning a new and better way. It is better to make mistakes on the journey, than to choose apathetic disinterest in growth. It is in making mistakes that we learn to do it right.

The next time my boss asked me to do something sketchy, I calmly rose from my chair at my desk, looked him in the eye, ushered him to sit down and calmly said, “If you want that done, you will need to do it yourself. I find it offensive.”

Again my boss looked surprised, but this time was different. With a new respect he said not to worry about doing it. He never again put me in that kind of a position.

When it comes to family, especially a father, mother or spouse, the familiarity can cause us instinctively to do one of two things. It can make us defensive, angry and disrespectful, or cause us to completely withdraw in fear or anxiety.  Like their wives, this can be a very real part of a husband’s journey. If we overcome these tendencies and learn to calmly speak the truth—that we have value and are not willing to be a doormat—we will have much more impact.

Recently, watching a video series on working through various issues, the one example jumped out at me, illustrating how to do this well. The speaker guided her audience on a gentle approach to establishing a strong boundary. In her example she was addressing a father, and the words were something to this effect: “Dad, I have worth. God sees value in me. I am His daughter and He treats me with respect. You need to treat me with respect and talk to me with respect. Until you can do that, I am not willing to subject myself to abuse.”

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” More is said in the tone of voice than in the words we speak. The truth, when spoken with calmness, has authority. The same truth, when spoken in loud or angry tone, loses impact.

The key to ending the doormat lifestyle is to first see that we have worth and value, and then to live a life that commands respect, in word and in deed.

© Trudy Metzger 2012