Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Scandal of the Evangelical Church

The biggest scandal of this year, in my opinion, was not the fact that 11 years ago, while being taped for an entertainment show, the Donald laughed about sexually assaulting non-consenting women because he could; rather, the biggest scandal of this year was the reaction that some of the most prominent Evangelical church leaders in the United States had to the surfacing of this video. Instant calls for forgiveness were issued and expected to be immediately followed by members of the Evangelical movement of Christianity. The entire issue was glossed over as if a, "nobody said he was perfect" response was good enough. They distanced themselves from the issue immediately, citing Hillary's many indiscretions, because two wrongs, in this case, make a right. If both presidential candidates have had "potty mouths," then they cancel each other out. Right? Wrong.

This, though it should be surprising, is not surprising.

For the past year or so, I've started listening, really listening, to the stories of people who have been burned by the Evangelical church - and when I say burned, I mean this: I have heard stories of girls in their teens being raped by youth ministers and then the victim and her family being shunned from the church for "slander"; of pastors cheating on their wives with congregants and still being able to hold their title/office while their wives either stay with them out of fear or leave and are shunned from the church entirely; of people who have had trusted leaders swindle money from them; victim after victim, story after story of the church covering its own leadership before it covers the congregants within it.

And to think that not so long ago the Evangelical church prided itself on not being the Catholic church when priests were sexually abusing young children.

"At least we're not like them."


it is.

I have my own stories of sexual assault. I am eternally blessed because the church I was going to at the time believed me when I came forward during my crumbling marriage and said, "I need help." Not only did they believe me, they were the ones who heard my story of feeling like things were just "not right" and taking me by the hands and saying, "Lisa, do you realize that what you are describing is abuse?" They wept with me. They took me in. They offered me financial support. 

That is the Evangelical Church I know and love deeply. 

They offered the freedom that the Gospel offers - true freedom. This church condemns both the words of Donald Trump and the immediate call to forgive him, simply because they know the amount of work it takes for people who have been sexually assaulted and/or abused in other ways to be able to forgive. They sit with us in our pain until we realize it's time to move forward. They allow us to process anger and indignation - righteous anger, might I add because abuse & assault have no place in the kingdom of God. 

Let me say that again:

Abuse and assault have no place in the kingdom of God.

I was eight when a boy who went to my Christian school & belonged to the same church as I did wouldn't stop making fun of my body. I was told by authority figures to "pray and forgive him," but the daily taunts did not cease. The verbal abuse, in fact, became worse with every single day at school, when the boys who were in my same combined 3rd/4th grade class caught on and continued taunting. Over and over I was told, "just forgive them." "It means they like you." "Boys will be boys." "The Bible tells us to pray for those who persecute you." "If you pray for them, they'll stop."

They didn't. 

When I was in 7th grade, the idea of "rating" girls based upon their appearances took off. Every girl in my middle school was rated. The girls who were rated highly were treated with respect. The girls who were rated lower were taunted. I was one of the lower rated girls and constantly called, "thunder thighs," and teased about my height & weight. I was severely depressed, suicidal, and had an eating disorder. 
I was told, "boys will be boys." "this will pass." "it doesn't really matter anyways, does it?"

It didn't pass.
And it did matter.

I learned how to be quiet when, in high school gym class, the boys would make fun of me when I was running because of the way my already-quite-developed breasts would bounce. I learned to be quiet when they would pass me and "accidentally" brush against my butt. I learned how to be quiet because whenever I objected or asked them to stop they told me that I was being crazy. I learned to be quiet when asked if I was just making things up because I needed attention. I learned to be quiet when my bra was snapped against my back or when the boy behind me unclasped it in class because "it's harmless fun." I learned to be quiet because, after a while, I started truly believing that I was the problem.

Because "boys will be boys. They'll grow out of it."

And in these stories, many other girls have found their stories. The stories that require, "Me, too" responses, weeping together over the brokenness that has, in some very literal cases, penetrated our bodies without our consent. 

My first kiss was in first grade when holding the door open for my class to return to class and the last boy in line grabbed my face and kissed my lips. I remember weeping because six-year-old me knew that that wasn't ok. 

At sixteen, a boy I had "met" in a Christian online forum relentlessly pressured me to send him nude photos of myself. He then went on to describe all the ways in which he would sexually please me, never mind the fact that up until that point, I had no interest in having sex and was completely unaware that sex could be pleasurable. I was a virgin of virgins. I hadn't even had my first real kiss yet. I'd told all my friends that I had, but that was just so I didn't seem weird and I'm mostly positive they knew I was bluffing anyways.

I had anxiety attacks for weeks after cutting off communication with him because he told me he'd find me and rape me and post nude photos of me all over the internet. He told me he would wreck my life. He told me he'd kill himself if I stopped talking to him. He guilted me into continuing to talk until I just couldn't handle it anymore and blocked him. 

But I knew that if I told somebody about this, it would be glossed over. I'd be blamed for leading him on. How could I have talked to someone I never met before and allowed him to do this to me? Was I just being overly dramatic? I was probably making this stuff up.

Over and over again, in cycles of abuse, I would always come back to what the Evangelical church of my childhood would tell me - "its your fault anyways. You shouldn't have dressed so provocatively. You should have just left. You shouldn't have....you should have..."

Just forgive them. Boys will be boys.

You can maybe get a glimpse of what I mean, then, when I say that I was triggered less by Donald Trump's comments this past weekend than I was by the calls of Jerry Falwell Jr, James Dobson, and Franklin Graham to forgive him. Immediately. 

Don't get me wrong, Donald's comments this past weekend triggered anger and anxiety in me. 

The response of the prominent leaders of the Evangelical church almost gave me a nervous breakdown.

"TOO SOON!" I wanted to shout. "IT'S TOO SOON." It's too soon. It's too soon. It's too soon. It's too soon.

These are not "just words," "just locker room talk," or "the words of a man before he was changed," because if there's anything in my history to suggest it, men don't often "just talk" about sexual abuse - if they talk about it and there is no remorse, they do it.

And don't tell me that he has changed when, according to his actions after his "conversion," he has shown no signs of repentance, a desire to reconcile, or an attempt to make amends for the things he has done. Instead, he continues mocking women, spewing sexist remarks, shaming women for sickness & weight gain. He has said he has nothing to repent for when he has led a life that warrants repentance. But there is none. There is, in his opinion, nothing to merit repentance. 

And yet we're expected to forgive and believe that he has experienced a conversion.

He's compared to David. To Paul. To the people in the Bible who were sinners and yet God used them for the Kingdom.

But it's often forgotten that each one of those people who experienced God, before Christ or after, fell on their knees, tore their clothes, wept, and repented for who they were and what they had done. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners and isn't proud of it. He doesn't boast in his strengths but in his weaknesses. He doesn't boast in his wealth but in his poverty. He doesn't boast in his status as a Jew, as a Roman citizen. David? The adulterer? He wrote Psalm 51, pleading with God to have mercy on him. 

Trump has done none of these things. He boasts in his strength, in his wealth, in his status. He refuses to repent when it has been shown time and time again that he has plenty in his life that warrants repentance.

So do not gloss over this, Church, as you have done for your pastors and leaders caught in sin. 

Weep with those of us who have experienced sexual assault at the hands of other people who claim to be Christians. Do not respond to this with a blank-slate, "sinners gonna sin" response. If you want a Christian candidate, require that their life be one that shows change, that shows the "good fruit" that comes from being pruned by the Holy Spirit. One where an apology shows true remorse, does not try to deflect to another person to make themselves look better, has a plan for making amends, and is working towards true change. None of those things were actually present in Donald's "apology." "I never said I was a perfect person" is not an apology - it is, in fact, Donald putting the blame on other people for expecting better from him. He takes no responsibility. He has no remorse.

And do not tell Christians to forgive him while you, yourself, are withholding forgiveness for Secretary Clinton's indiscretions. We see your double standards, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson & Franklin Graham. We see the hypocrisy. And believe me when I say this: your words telling me that I must forgive immediately hurt more. His words and his actions are not ok. His inability to repent is not ok. And the freedom he boasts is one that is not of Christ, so please stop pretending like it is.