The term ‘victim mentality’ is one I don’t use, because I have found the true ‘victim mentality’ is an incredibly rare phenomenon. I would dare to say that what we often call victim mentality is the aftermath of dreadfully under-acknowledged terror and trauma, rather than some notion of ‘wanting to stay there’. (More on what drives this being stuck in trauma later). In 9 years of interacting closely with them, I have watched most victims of abuse move ‘beyond survivor’ to truly thriving, with few exceptions. This includes those who were my clients, and many who were not my clients but stayed in close contact as they worked through their stories with other mentors and counsellors.
At least a percentage of these individuals would have been classed as having a ‘victim mentality’. Always needing sympathy or affirmation — or both — and seeming to feel ‘poor me’ at every turn with everyone around them always being out to do them harm, no one ever understanding them, and ever being on the fringe of an emotional crash (including threat of suicide etc).
Along with this there was, for some, the need to have somewhere between 6 and 8 people at any given moment whom they would hold on emotional string, as I call it, that they could yank at any moment to have people running from every direction to ‘save them’ from themselves. This is exhausting for everyone.
Sometimes we call it ‘victim mentality’ because we are tired, so that we can remove ourselves from the suffering, which is not productive. It is a sign of deep wounds that need healing. And those who have no concept of offering healthy support, make things worse by accommodating every yank of the string. And yet, ignoring them is not the answer; these victims do need support.
What has happened is that their boundaries have been brutally violated in the same act that left these victims of abuse so emotionally/psychologically, sexually, spiritually and often physically devastated. They, therefore, do not know how to respect healthy boundaries, and when their pain surfaces, for many the only survival skill they have is drawing emotionally from others.
We judge them for it, when the reality is that their suffering has never been acknowledged, and no one has ever said, “I’m so sorry. May I just sit with you in your pain, and love you where you are at?”
When we do that… When we stop judging their neediness… When we stop defining their place of suffering as ‘victim mentality’ …. When we pull up a chair at that preschooler’s table – or that pre-teen’s or teenager’s …now that young woman or man – something beautiful happens. They begin to heal.
To offer this support well requires having boundaries. Set specific times to meet. Have a limit on how many texts, emails, phone calls etc, and set time restrictions on how long those calls are. Or you will be consumed, and they certainly will not heal. We enter into their suffering, but must do so with wisdom.
Then, when we have been there with them, in that dark place of their suffering, only then have we earned the privilege of being invited to speak. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege. And the best gift we can give, when we do speak, is an invitation to walk together. An invitation to share with them the Love of One who gives us life and hope. Not an invitation for us to ‘fix’ them. Or for us to help them arrive where we are. But an invitation to meet the One who is our life and hope. The One who defines us.
When we are given permission to speak His life, His hope and His purpose over them, they grow. They learn to trust. They learn to forgive. As we care, they become stronger. They heal. And when they heal, they no longer see only their own pain, but the pain of others.
Some fear healing. It isn’t that they don’t want to heal, most of them. But a few are terrified of healing. If they heal, who will be there? The only connections some have ever had, have been linked to their trauma and need. If they heal, who will be there? If they heal, will they be alone… lonely? And who will they be? They’ve never been anything other than in pain and suffering? What if being whole demands things they are not capable of. More than one survivor of trauma has admitted these fears to me.
It is easy to judge from a distance. It’s easy to say those fears are not reasonable. Yet they are very real for many survivors of terror and trauma. The shift from fear to thriving happens with recognizing we have something to give, that our need doesn’t have to be the source of our fulfillment.
When, having sat with them in their sorrow, we have earned the privilege to speak… And when, having earned the privilege to speak, we have encouraged, and believed, and spoken life and purpose… Then we can ask the hard questions…
What if healing didn’t mean you would be alone? What if healing meant that you could be there for others? What if healing meant that you would be more fulfilled than you ever imagined you would be or could be? What if…?
And when they dare to embrace that challenge, a courage rises up, and they reach out. And in reaching out to others, they are healed. Again. And this doesn’t mean they will never struggle. Tomorrow might be a hard day. Next week they might call their counsellor because they feel lost. Next year they might need someone to ask again, “What if healing doesn’t mean you will be lonely, or alone? What if you keep reaching out to others? What if…?”
It isn’t a victim mentality. Not usually. And we do a lot of damage when blithely we write it off as that. Mostly it is fear. It is the aftermath of deep trauma. It is a failure to thrive because there has been a failure in those of us around them to sit with them patiently in their suffering, and acknowledge it. And it is a journey. A rising and falling. And rising again.
Only when we have walked through deep trauma, or dared to entered into the suffering of others can we grasp that battle.
When we reach out to others in hope and healing, our healing comes more quickly. ~ Isaiah 58 ~
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 thosewho 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.
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.
The Oct4 Training Day is for those wishing to support victims
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)
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.
In my previous blog I touched briefly on the topic of pastors being charged with failing to report. As I pondered it, afterwards, I decided to expand on it somewhat, as one thing I failed to mention could be misleading.
In my previous blog I stated that “I wouldn’t in any way interfere with a prison sentence for such a leader“, but that is where I missed one critical detail. I mention that I support reporting, but I fail to say that I would do much more than ‘not interfere’. I would actively do my part in such a process of holding leaders accountable, and I would also personally report leaders who fail to protect and fail to report. However, if at any point they stop looking the other way and don’t justify or excuse having done so in the past, I am inclined to work cooperatively with them.
And, frankly, I would rather see them not receive a prison sentence by the time they ‘get it’ – no matter how they arrived there – because they are key to ending the cycle. We need men – leaders in particular – inside the conservative Anabaptist culture who will help end this dreadful cycle. And if we put them behind bars, we essentially work against our own end goal; to stop the cycle and have those within the culture help stop it. But if they return to covering for abusers, then let the full extent of the law be applied, as far as I am concerned. Taking ‘ownership’ just to get off the hook isn’t taking ownership at all. It’s manipulation. And it isn’t acceptable. It is but another contributing factor to the epidemic of abuse.
If reporting and sentencing all who ever covered would end the epidemic, then I could support such an argument, however it would more likely push the problem further underground. Many victims would rather carry their stories in silence than to see their leaders charged when, in their minds, they were doing what was in the best interest of all involved. So, if pastors are charged without any attempt at working with those who recognize in the process that their decision brought harm, and genuinely want change, then we will inadvertently bring further harm by pushing victims into deeper silence. But this silence will not be imposed. It will be chosen to prevent the fallout of leaders ending behind bars.
Furthermore, if leaders come around – even if only after a warning – and work cooperatively to end sexual violence, then doing so is our single best shot at impacting the next generation. Removing them at that point seems counterproductive to the true goal – breaking the cycle of sexual violence in our culture – for the sake of ‘giving them what they had coming to them’. This is not justice. Because justice considers the big picture. It considers the longterm impact. It works always in the best interest of those most vulnerable. Therefore, if we toss every pastor behind bars because he asked for it by not reporting, and it inadvertently causes an outcome that sacrifices the victims and potentially creates more, then we have failed.To navigate this objectively, and not cause more harm than good, will take wisdom and discernment.
I continue to see God moving, and I see progress within the conservative Anabaptist culture, as more an more leaders, as well as parents and other non-victims rise up to say “enough is enough”. As it becomes increasingly apparent that some leaders are colluding to cover up, and some are doing so to hide their own history of abusing, those in the pews are growing discontent with the facade and taking a stand against both abuse and coverups. And those leaders who are transparent are joining those discontented in the pews, or even leading them. That is a very good sign!
For this day we have prayed, and to this end we continue to press 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 PAthis 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 revelation – even if it is inspired by pressure from the law – I 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…
A promise made is a promise to be kept.
And God knows I’d rather forget.
It has been a few weeks since June 8… that fateful day in the present situation with attempting to expose an offender, and challenge the way the case was handled. Soon after that day, and after my ‘apology blog’, I pulled down the blogs I had written that opened up the crazy can of worms… or snakes… that led to that day in the first place.
I pulled all the blogs after discovering my apology was not warranted. I wrote it in sincerity, having been made to believe that I was wrong about the offender’s repentance and the way in which his public ‘confession’ came about. But I also wrote it in absolute confusion because the evidence I had didn’t line up with what I was made to believe. And I pulled them because I needed time to process the shock factor at discovering I had been tripped and gas-lighted.
I have yet to fully understand all the motives behind that day, but I made a promise to tell the truth that I know, after a bit of rest.
On June 4 an apology was posted by the man who sexually assaulted one young woman, and made sexually explicit phone calls to many others. I was told that it was a coached apology, written by a group of men – and that this information came from the leader I previously called into questions, who had been part of that process. On June 7, I called that out because of the incredible damage it was doing to the victims. The leader who knew about the sexual assault, and did nothing to protect other vulnerable individuals, had played a role in this ‘apology’, and had asked one of the leaders I was working with if it would ‘help’ if the abuser apologized. And then, as the attacks and poop-flinging ensued, he watched the destruction and attacks without the integrity to step in and intervene, but instead ‘liked’ abusive comments… on the bogus ‘confession’. (A pastor involved told me that he ‘is not repentant, but wants to be’.) Shortly after calling this out, a comment was posted attacking me. It was so vile and abusive it left me shocked. (And it takes a lot to shock me.)
In the wee hours of June 8, having spent a sleepless night processing what it all meant, another message came in… I had spent the night struggling with the abusive comment, and the fact that this leader who works with sexual abuse victims would think such an apology was a good idea, (and then stand back and watch the destruction… as though that was ‘helping’), without the honour to stop it and admit what had been done.
And then I read the message that came in from one of the leaders I had worked with and trusted, “Trudy the misinformation coming from your public posts is staggering. It is truth with assigned motives that are very faulty. I also know about the editing. And why it was edited...” (There is a bigger piece to this that I am not free to tell, but will say that this leader did not agree with a half-baked confession, and if his advice had been taken, things would have shaken out very differently.)
I read it. Numb. Shock.
First, I understood ‘it is truth’ as meaning that the confession was true and sincere, and ‘with assigned motives’ as meaning that I was assigning faulty motives to the confession. And in that moment, I was a young teen, waiting to be excommunicated again. The allegations were not true, back then; I had not sinned the sins I was accused of. And in that moment, I was hurled into full blow flashback and PTSD. (It was not the first time in this experience of attempting to confront the abuser and bring an end to the abuse and hold leaders accountable that this happened. A previous time was when I was told that the leader (who appears to be) protecting the abuser, rates the man at a ‘3 out of 10’ for risk and/or perversion “because he gets no sexual pleasure from what he does”. Wait… Wha…? I can’t even go there…)
In 27 years of working through my past, I recall a total of 6 … maybe 7 extreme PTSD/flashbacks. At least 3 have occurred in the past 3 months of dealing with this scenario and attempting to work with leaders, while watching as sexual abuse is downplayed, victims are re-victimized, and I am gaslighted. It is not an easy thing to deal with high level abuse. And hearing things like rating an offender a ‘3 out of 10’ because ‘he gets no sexual gratification from his crimes’ was horrifying on so many levels. That means many, if not most, child molesters are not a big deal because many touch the child without any form of penetration. This, again, effectively makes it all about the offender. God forbid we look too closely at the hell it brings into a child’s life.
By June 9 two things happened. I was informed that, in fact, what I had written in my status updates was truth. It was a group effort apology, and was intended to calm the chaos. (I am no longer convinced I was ‘off’ in what I assigned to it. It was to protect the offender, as I understand/see it, by calming the chaos. And such apologies always serve only to further victimize the victims and make the offender look good. It’s wicked, in my opinion and is often mentioned by victims as being one of the most damaging things in they have suffered in religious context related to the handling of abuse they suffered. “Let your yay be yay…” Don’t say an apology that isn’t true. That’s not appropriate. And if the man *wants* to be repentant, for heaven’s sake, help him face the consequences and stop lying to himself so he *can* be repentant!)
The other thing that happened by June 9, is that several people (unrelated to each other, and still unknown to each other) called me to tell me to watch my back. One said the leader close to the abuser had said I’m a Jezebel (more than once, over a period of months since January). And another said the leader called me a matriarchal woman and called one of the victims is a matriarchal witch. They commented on his hatred for Jezebel and his determination to destroy ‘Jezebel’. (Based on this, they were concerned that the leader was assigning his hatred for Jezebel to me, since that is who/what I represent to him.) Rather than ‘throw me’ or upset me, it brought clarity and understanding, and helped put all the ‘crazy’ in context.
I draw a line in the sand. I stand against abuse, and this is spiritual abuse to which I will not subject myself, and against which I will take a firm stand, not only for my sake but also for the sake of every woman and man subjected to this kind of abuse while Christian leaders rise up to protect each other. Until full ownership is taken (by him)for this abuse, and other abusive behaviours (by this leader), I am taking a firm stand to endorsenothing and partner with nothing in ministry that involves this leader. And ownership includes acknowledging the careless handling of the situation, disregarding those who approached him before me (at least 5 godly men and women – info that was forwarded to me via someone the leader’s wife shared it with), and apologizing for the name-calling and spiritual abuse.
I am choosing a path of forgiveness, but not a path of silence. And forgiveness also does not mean I won’t have firm boundaries, because forgiveness does not include letting abuse go unchallenged. And if we cannot hold each other accountable as leaders for abusive behaviours and putting others at risk then shame on us all. If we fear the blood-bath at our feet, when it involves leaders and ministries, and don’t recognize that the bloodbath has been going on for victims for many generations, with no one to intervene for them…. If we protect leaders and/or from consequences for abuse, and don’t protect victims from such individuals., then we have failed…. and God have mercy on us all.
I do not know where things stand with this whole situation, as far as what other leaders are doing with it. But I do know I am taking a stand against abuse, and I stand firm on the evidence and the account I have given of this situation.
If you have questions, send me an email. If it’s out of curiosity with no higher purpose, I’m not interested in engaging. If it’s to destroy people – whether ‘them’ or me – I’m not interested. If it’s for the sake of truth and for the good of your community, the actors involved here or some positive end, I’m more than willing to interact.
Her white gown flowed with grace and beauty. She was stunning. The bride. She stood at some distance from me, and I watched. Who was she? What was that glow? I couldn’t see her eyes clearly, but I had no doubt they sparkled with joy. Her ruby lips, full and sweet carried the kiss of love for her Bridegroom.
I, a stranger, watched from the fence line of my property. I didn’t know the bride or her groom, but when everyone talks about the most amazing wedding of all time – even greater than Prince Charles and Lady Diana, or their children’s weddings. The greatest wedding ever. That’s what the rumour was, when I heard it. So, from my place, my yard, I watched it unfold. She moved closer, the bride, on her path toward the groom, where he stood waiting to make her his. His eyes… Oh his eyes….
My heart skipped a beat, and a tear slipped down my face. Such love! I wondered what it would be like… But I pushed that thought back. Not me. Not in my world. Such love has no room in the rejected ones. My mind slipped back in time. I could hear my father beating her, the woman who had carried and birthed me. I was three then. I heard her, the woman who gave birth to me, curse me, curse my siblings, call us things… things so dark that I felt like a whore. I was still three then. I turned again to the bride, to the groom, trying to grasp this love… But, no, that love was not my destiny. I would always be one of the rejected ones, the unlovables. Best to not dream…
I could see her eyes now… the sparkle. Another tear … and then another. Oh, if only I could be part of that wedding! There were crowds and crowds on the other side of the fence, all wearing white. It was breathtaking…
But, I … I was one of the castaway ones.
And then, as the bride moved closer, the most amazing thing happened. She turned, in her glory, and her eyes looked right into mine. She raised her hand, gesturing for me to come join the wedding. I looked at my overall denim jumper, my gardening gloves covered in dirt, weeds still hanging from my hand. I looked at my weedy garden. And I shook my head, looking down, ashamed. She moved closer. I could smell the sweet perfume and hear her voice singing. The bride was singing to me, still beckoning.
I looked at the crowd. The white, in stark contrast with my rubber boots, covered in mud. They sang. The words. Why were they praising the groom, but also singing my name? Why was the bride beckoning? I looked around as if to find someone to pinch me and wake me. Surely this had to be a dream… a vision. I was nobody. Worthless. But the singing continued. They were all inviting me to join the wedding march. “Come just as you are”, they sang.
The bride pointed to the groom. He stood there, holding a white dress, for me. There was water for me to wash myself. Overwhelmed, I did the only thing I could do. I crawled over that old fence and ran to the Groom. Having washed, and dressed in white, I joined the crowd. The words of the song formed on my lips, and I sang. From my heart, I sang of the wonderful groom. And when I met them, the people on the other side of the fence, the bride and I sang the praises of the groom, and the names of those we met. Some joined. Some didn’t. All was well.
We were dressed, we were fed, we had every need met. I hardly thought of the past, the beatings, the name-calling, the rapes and abuse I had suffered. My new life was good. Too good to be true. But it was true. No one shook my body, calling my name to wake up. Reality. Truth. I knew love and care for the first time, in the wedding march.
One day I surveyed the train of the bride’s veil with great curiosity. It was long. So long, in fact, I couldn’t see the end of it. And then I saw it. A movement, as if there was struggle under the train, for as far as I could see, the bulges and movement continued. The bridesmaids carried the train, seemingly without questioning the thing I saw. Did they not see it? Maybe it was nothing. But it troubled me.
I ran for a groomsman – because the bride had said if ever we need something, anything at all, we should go to the groomsmen. They would help. And if it required a bridesmaid, the groomsmen would know which ones were equipped to help. The groomsman looked at the commotion I pointed to, and calmly responded, “There is no struggle. That’s nothing. Keep singing.”
His voice rose louder, and the people around sang louder too. The commotion under the train continued. I squeezed between the bridesmaids and reached for the train, trying to look under it. But, to my shock, one of the groomsman slapped my hand and then motioned for me to sing. I tried to sing. I wanted to sing, but something told me I had to see under the train. I lagged behind, trying to hide in the fringe crowd. From there, I would slip in and see what was under the train. I could see the writhing, and I would not quit until I knew what it was about.
I whispered to a sweet looking bridesmaid, and asked her what is under the train. She shushed me, urged me to focus on the wedding, on the groom, and keep singing. Seeing I would not stop, she explained. To look under the train would leave me deceived. I must not. I dare not. There was nothing under the train, she assured me. These imaginations had been presented by other deceived ones who wanted to destroy the bride, the groomsmen and the bridesmaid. She was only trying to protect me, she said. Her voice was sweet, consoling, reassuring.
I wondered what was wrong with me, and why I would imagine such things?
A man and a woman walked toward the train, carrying something. But what? The bridesmaids lifted the train, and I watched as they flung the large ‘package’ under the train. Their hands were red… Was that blood? I shuddered. No. This imagination, it needed to stop. I was going insane. I sang louder, more enthusiastically.
But it happened again. Another one tossed under the train of her robe. And another. And another.
I sang louder. And louder. And louder.
But the words… the words fell flat.
We sang of how the groom had given his mansion for us…
And then I heard the scream. Bloodcurdling, life-stopping scream.
A few in the audience mimicked it as if to make me believe it was part of the song. But I knew. I knew… I remembered that scream… It was my scream. I had screamed in the night. A child. A teen. A young woman. And the train had suffocated me. I would not, I could not hold back.
I ran, full force between the bridesmaids holding the train and grabbed it, trying to wrestle it from the bridesmaids. But they would not let me near it. They pushed me back.
A small hand reached out from under the train. I tried to grab it, but the bridesmaid stomped on the hand, and quickly it disappeared.
The bridesmaid called over a groomsman and soon others gathered around me, and gave me a row for creating such havoc in the wedding party. Had I no awareness that the groom wanted my attention? Did I not know that he would take care of these things? Why was I so intent on destroying the groomsmen and the bridesmaids? Did I not know that these men and women were forgiven? Had I learned nothing?
The small hand slipped out again.. and then another… and another… and another. And feet, as bodies tried to crawl out. I saw them, moving, blood-covered, flesh grown wild with disease and gangrene covering limbs.
Shocked, I gasped. Then vomited.
How…? “My God! My God!” I wept. I looked at the groom. The groom this wedding march had pointed to and told me to worship… Our eyes met. I watched as his body doubled and he vomited, and he wept. And I knew…
Without a thought, I dove under the train. Dead bodies. More diseased bodies. Bones from ages past. Some delusional ones holding bibles, trying frantically to find some word to heal them of their disease. Others, cursing the groom and shaking their fists at him, lifting middle fingers high toward the heavens. Fingers bleeding from being stomped on.
Men in what robes dove under, raped the corpses, the dying… even the infants. Women in white robes joined in, forcing objects into their little bodies, or forcing the little and dying ones to bring sexual pleasure to their own bodies, before kicking them and leaving them to bleed. As those in white exited they stood tall, and told those near them they had done things that displeased the groom. The crowd wept, and patted them on the back for their honesty, and washed the blood and diseased flesh off of them, and reminded them that the groom had forgiven. And together they sang.
I screamed at the top of my lungs, with everything in me, “These children are dying!! These women are dying!! These men are dying!! They carry the disease of the men and women who have raped and beaten them!”
A boot landed in my face. A white boot. A lead groomsmen. It left me reeling. Surely he doesn’t know what is going on here? I grabbed his hand and tried to show him the devastation. He nodded. “What you see here,” he said, “isn’t the fault of those who raped them. These are the ones who cannot forgive. They don’t know the groom. That’s the problem.”
He seemed to speak from a place of truth. So I started to sing. I sang under the train to those dying. As I sang, their flesh fell off their bones. Why, when I was singing the life-giving words that had brought me hope… The words the groomsmen had taught me… the words they said were the groom’s words… Why was the flesh falling from their bones? I was baffled.
The men and women who had raped and beaten the wounded ones, pointed at me. “You are angry. You are bitter! You won’t forgive!” they shouted. “Stop blaming us! We are forgiven! You need healing! We are suffering for the groom here! Can’t you see what you are doing?” And as they shouted the crowd gathered around them and sang, patting them on the back.
I looked at the dying child in my arms. Clearly these people were not going to help these wounded ones. I ran to the groom. I yelled. I screamed. I wept.
“Why?!!! Why are they dying? Why can’t they just forgive those who infect them with this flesh-eating disease? Why? I am singing! I am praising you! It’s supposed to heal them!”
The groom looked at me, tears running down His face. “As they have done it to the least of these… the most vulnerable among them, they have done it to me. If they have disregarded them, they have disregarded me. Come with me…”
He led me back to the dead and dying and eyes were opened. There I saw the groom, nearly naked, dressed in nothing but rags, and taking on the flesh-eating disease and other illness. He was healing them. He reached out, without shame or reserve, and touched the bones which held no flesh. And suddenly there was flesh. His hand bore the scar, having taken on their diseased flesh. He knelt down, breathed deep into the face of a dead child, and suddenly there was life. He took the hand of a cripple, and he danced with joy. He kissed the eyes of the blind and they saw. The heart that stopped beating, he laid his hands on and in one instant it started beating.
Then he stood and walked into the crowd and shouted. “I called you to be like Me! I confronted religious spirits. I healed the broken hearted. I acknowledged pain. I let the prostitute weep on my feet. I walked among the diseased, the lepers, the untouchables and unlovables. I never condemned them for speaking out. I never condemned those who spoke truth. I confronted half-truths and deception. And I healed the contrite sinner who held nothing back. I was not popular! I was hated, not protected by religious institutions. I called you to be like Me!”
He paused. He did not praise me, and he did not shame me. He pointed to the bodies, diseased and dying and commanded, “acknowledge their pain and let me heal them!” And then he walked deeper into the audience and began stripping the robes that had been handed out in his name, but without his blessing. There, the flesh-eating disease was carefully hidden, gangrene setting in.
“The truth… The truth will make you free. I AM Truth. Live my Life and Love among them,” he said, again pointing to the wounded ones.
He moved forward and lifted the train, exposing the bride’s feet. They were mottled, a sign of poor circulation and pending death. Gangrene was setting in. The groom fell to the ground and wept. “My bride! My beautiful bride! I gave everything I have for you!”
He turned to the groomsmen and bridesmaids. “I called you to protect her! I called you to guard her, not to destroy her by hiding diseases under her train! Pointing under the train he shouted, “This will destroy my bride if you do not rise up! Rise up! Stand for truth. I came to confront religious arrogance. I came to heal the broken-hearted. I came to set the captives free. You have not only neglected them, but added to their broken-heartedness and led them into deeper bondage. You will give account.”
And the people kept singing. A few touched up the bride’s makeup. But the train could never again hide the dying children, the diseased women and men, young boys and girls who had long lay under it. It could never again hide the dead bodies, the stench of which had stained the inside of the train.
And the groom, he stayed there on the ground. He did not dance and sing. He wept for the wounded ones even as he wiped the tears. He held them, as he sat there in sackcloth, and he healed them. He gave them each a white robe as he healed them. Most joined him in the ruins. Others went to the groomsmen, the bridesmaids and the crowds and kept pointing to the groom, directing the crowds away from the din and noise. They even spoke to the men and women who raped and beat the unlovables, and pointed them to the groom.
Because the groom… The groom will heal all who humbly accept truth.
Proverbs 31:8 “Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Matthew 12: 20
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.
Praying for the courage of many to rise up. We are losing too many victims to atheism, pain and depression. Dare to do what Jesus would do. Confront predators. Walk gently with the broken hearted. Settle for nothing less that truth. And invite all to Jesus.