I have been involved with SNAP since 2007. There are things in life we wish we could forget. We wish we didn’t know. That has been my experience with SNAP. If anyone should, no one has, ask me how to get involved to support survivors of clerical sexual abuse, my first and only question would be, “How strong is your faith?”, never implying mine is.
And now I hear from survivors I am personal friends with that they are unwelcome, a more accurate term is “banned”, from worshiping in certain Catholic churches. They have made no public statements in approaching these places of worship, they have merely been upfront with the pastor or diocese as to their identity, and been reticent in disclosing such to other than said pastor, and been told they are unwelcome.
Scandal within a scandal within a scandal. WWJD? 1) The sexual assault of children 2) The cover up and deception and endangerment of additional Catholic families 3) The un-Christian response of bishops and dioceses 4) The re-victimization of survivors by 2-3 and the above lack of Christian charity, welcome and hospitality.
I, too, have had my options limited of service to the Church in my faithfulness of support to survivors of abuse. I am only too eager to join survivors in being banned from Catholic property. I do, because I know that is where He will be, and I want to be with Him, no matter what. His will be done. His Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven. And, it will. I pray for the salvation of perpetrators and enablers as I do for my own.
Kelly and I are monthly contributors to SNAP. Barbara Blaine, founder and survivor herself, and I are dear personal friends. She blows me a kiss or gives me a hug when she sees me.
(You may listen to the audio here.)
“Good morning. I want to start off reading something that many of you may be familiar with.
‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’
He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ -Lk 10:30-37
As most of you in this room know, this morning, there’s a very dark and desolate place in this world. A place where a multitude of hurting and traumatized souls lay on the side of the road alone, a few still holding out hope that someone, anyone will stop. While most others have long since given up. See, this is a side of the road where precious children wake up each morning fearing that they will be once again sexually violated by an adult they have been taught to trust and obey, an adult that is supposed to love and protect them. This is the side of the road where children live in fear each night about what will happen when the lights go off.
This is the side of the road where the lives and souls of children are eviscerated by those in power who profess Jesus, as they betray and violate his little ones. This is a side of the road where the church ignores the painful cries of these victims while embracing their perpetrators as trusted leaders and model Christians. This is the side of the road where adult survivors are marginalized and allowed to drown in their hopelessness by the very church that is called to pursue and embrace them in love and charity. This is the side of the road where the unique and beautiful lives of those who are made in image of God are left to die.
See this dark and desolate place is inside the church and many may even say is the church. When I say church this morning I come to you as a Presbyterian. So when I say church this morning I mean Christendom, and I can tell you from somebody who’s grown up as a Protestant, child sexual abuse within the Protestant church is rampant, and largely to this day unrecognized, but that is changing, and I’m grateful for that. You see, this is a church, a place that all too often betrays and abuses children while telling the world how much it values and love God’s little ones.
It’s a church that shames survivors into deathly silence as it walks by making pious excuses for not crossing the road to welcome and care for those who’ve been left alone. It’s a place that exploits power and authority to silence the hurting. It’s a place that claims to be the bride of Jesus, but doesn’t even know what He looks like. I’ve met some of these amazing souls and have the distinct honor of calling many of you my friends.
You’ve shared with me the horrors of being violated by those you trusted and the deep indescribable pains of living alone on the side of the road as you are marginalized, shamed, and ignored by family, friends and the very faith community that have eviscerated your body and your soul.
See, I grew up thinking that the purpose of the church is to reflect hope, joy, self-worth, peace, love, life; that’s what I learned. I’m the grandson of Billy Graham and that’s the world from which I come, and to his credit that is the church he showed to me.
But instead what I’ve learned is that it’s a place that has brutally robbed so many of those very treasures. Instead of reflecting Jesus, the church is too often reflected nothing but a cold, dark abyss.
Some amazing survivors have shared with me things like this and many of which would be very similar to some of the amazing people in this room this morning. One told me: “Because of my abuse on the mission field, I absolutely despise anyone who calls themselves a Christian.”
Another told me: “At age 13, I was so disillusioned with Christianity that I preferred to be in hell, I was committed to following Satan. I saw the native people worshiping the devil, and they were getting what they needed from their religion.” Most recently, somebody wrote me and said, “So I don’t understand how he, the perpetrator, is so righteous and how everyone is standing strongly with him to defend him, to defend his ministry. They see him as under attack, just because I finally spoke. He is righteous and I’m tainted, they see me as evil, I’m scared mostly because I’m not always sure what is true. Does God see me the way they do? Is God against me? Is he angry that I can’t forget? Is he angry that I haven’t forgiven in some ways that hasn’t allowed me to forget? I don’t want to be broken anymore.”
Any institution that is responsible for such horrors and then fails to accept its complete responsibility, grieve at the indescribable pain it has caused, and then demonstrate authentic repentance; demonstrate, not just by empty words, is rotting at the core.
I have a friend of mine who is a Christian and he writes these…I guess he calls them poems. I’m not sure if they’re really poems, but they are pretty good, and he…I took a part of his poem out the other night that says, this, and it is so true, he says, “Like let’s dress up the outside make it look nice and neat. But it’s funny, that’s what they do – that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse’s rot underneath.”
See, I grieve that much of the church is asleep, and doesn’t even realize it. I grieve that it’s so far – hard to find Jesus in the midst of all of this. For too many people inside the church it is always Winter, but never Christmas. As a follower of Jesus, I have struggled with how to understand and respond to this appalling darkness and pain, perpetrated by individuals and institutions that profess to love and follow the same Jesus that I do? How do I respond? How do I respond to the beautiful individuals who have been so broken by those who profess Jesus? How do I respond to survivors who get up each day, struggling with trauma, shame, self-worth, abandonment, and a lifetime of processing abuse?
How do I respond when the vulnerable have been overwhelmed by the darkness and kicked to the side of the road? How do I respond when the church is often the one doing the kicking? Interestingly enough, the parable of the Good Samaritan is beginning to help me process these painful questions with a little bit of hope. See it’s a parable about the most unlikely persons who move towards the hurting in order to get down into the dirt with them and bring hope by helping to lift him up and begin healing.
It’s about authentic compassion. A compassion, whereby we are so moved and overwhelmed by the distress of another that their distress and pain is as if it is our very own. It is about a compassion that overrides all fear and risk and is fueled by love, time and time again, the story points me to God. Not the God of the self-righteous and the self-important, nor the God of those who use his name to exploit and destroyed vulnerable in order to seize and protect power. And not the God of those in the church who are so busy doing religious stuff that they don’t even have time for those who are lying on the side of the road.
No, that’s not the God I’m talking about. This parable and God’s kindness, this parable has pointed me to a much different God. A God whose very character helps me as I spend my days and nights swimming in Christian cesspools, confronting abuse and searching for those who are drowning.
Let me give you an example. Just a few examples of what I mean. The parable is helping me to get to know a God that is not silent, a God who is not silent when confronted by evil regardless of the un-ultimate consequence.
I cannot be silent when I am confronted by the evil of child abuse, (Ed: me either!) regardless of where it happens, who commits it or the consequences that I may face when I confront it. I’m getting to know a God that pursues hurting people. This beautiful truth encourages me to pursue those around me who are hurting and have lost all hope, as a result of the abuse they have suffered inside and outside of the church. See, as you well know too many survivors lying on the side of the road has never even been noticed, let alone pursued by the church.
I’m getting to know a God, who is safe, not only does He pursue us, but He’s approachable because He’s safe. Oh His people so often times, or at least those who profess to be his people, are not safe. But the God that I’m getting to know is – don’t we see this in the life of Jesus? Remember the story in the gospel where the little children want to come and talk to Jesus and Jesus, he’s preaching. The God of the universe is preaching and these kids wanna come up and talk and sit around and probably goof off and probably don’t really care about what He’s saying.
And who was it that pushed the children away? It was those who’ve spent their days and nights with Jesus. It was the holy guys, the guys who were with Jesus all of the time. They were the ones that push the kids away and who spoke up about this travesty, nobody except Jesus. There was a silence and Jesus when he spoke up – I have some friends who would know a lot more translation than I do. What they said He, you know, in a very crossway Jesus really was pissed off. I mean like the words in the Bible don’t really explain it, that well, but He was just pissed.
Now think about this – think about this at that time in history children were valued just a bit over a slave and Jesus is pissed at His disciples because they’re getting in the way. Because Jesus was speaking great truths and they all wanted to listen and these little precious ones made in the image of God simply wanted to be with Him. See that is an approachable God. That is a God that I’m getting to know who is safe. So many of our faith communities are not safe places for survivors.
Many survivors are forced into silence because they don’t feel safe with those who may be closest to them. You know that more than I do. Responses such as why can’t you just forgive and move on? Are often no less traumatizing than the very abuse itself. See unsafe churches are abusive churches. I’m getting to know a God who treasures transparency and healthy vulnerability. You see, as a Christian I believe that God did his most powerful work when he was vulnerable and transparent.
He was lying naked – hanging naked on a cross. The God of the universe that doesn’t make sense to me to be honest with you, it’s so upside down. It’s so not the way we think, is it? The God of the universe would expose himself and be vulnerable to the point of death. But that’s what changed, in my belief, the course of history. See this truth frees me to be transparent and vulnerable with those who have lost all hope. It frees me to weep with those who weep. To get angry and pissed off with those who are angry and pissed off.
But I’m afraid not many churches and Christian institutions understand this fundamental truth because what all too often happens with an institution, as you all well know, instead of embracing transparency and for vulnerability, which is the character of the very God in which they claim to worship, they protect themselves; they protect themselves by sacrificing individuals. That’s exactly the opposite of what God did because God sacrificed Himself for individual souls.
But too often today our institutions are sacrificing individual’s souls themselves. It’s backward people. It’s not – it is not Christianity. It is not. I’m also getting to know a God who doesn’t let go. His love for each of us is forever. He doesn’t let go. Even when I don’t even think He’s around He’s still holding onto me. And this may be difficult for some of you to hear, but I’ll be just brave enough to say he’s still holding onto you. You may wonder where He is. I wonder that often, but He is.
See one of the great tragedies of the church is that it’s always letting go, especially those who are hurting the most. That’s not Jesus. Yes, the God I’m getting to know treasures the rejected, the marginalized and the ignored. He crosses the road and gets down into the dirt with the hurting and brutalized. The God that I’m getting to know is so overwhelmed by the distress of others that their pain becomes His own. He’s a God whose very essence is light. In the Bible there is a verse that says, “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” -Jn 1:5
As a Christian I hold tightly to that verse. So where is this God of light? There many days I wake up, and think, “Where are You? You say you’re a God of light, where are You?” And then He gently and sometimes not so gently lets me know that the God that I’m getting to know is reflected in the faces of so many who are sitting here today and outside of this room who are spending their lives crossing roads and getting into the dirt with those who can’t move and have given up hope. Whether you realize it or not, each time you cross the road you’re carrying light into darkness. A darkness that is slowly being defeated.
Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light as we hear the voices of so many amazing everyday people stepping forward, refusing to be silent any longer? Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light through the lives of those who are speaking on behalf of survivors whose voices are simply tired? Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light as more and more brave souls are calling Christian leaders to repentance and demanding them to turn down the volume of their own voices? So they can hear the suffering cries of others. Aren’t we witnessing this beautiful light in organizations like this who helped shine light into the very dark places?
I believe this person was Catholic, but I’m not sure Knuin? – Knowen?, no one ever heard of him – okay and I don’t know really much about him, so if – so he may be somebody that none of us will like. But I – but I don’t know, but I do like this quote, he says, “They do not deny the darkness, they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself, and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God”
See, I realize that we’re all on a long journey as the death of darkness is very slow. I also realize that many of us are simply tired. On those days I simply want to quit, I’m reminded that I’m not alone in this journey. In fact I walk this journey alongside some of those most amazing heroes ever to walk the face of the earth. Heroes, who cross the road and get down into the dirt and lift me up to press forward for another day. On one of those days when I simply couldn’t go any further I received a precious thought from one of these heroes. One of these flashes of light, who said thank you from all of us who have been languished by the road, bloody, beaten and robbed and watched the Levi’s and the Pharisees just walk on by.
Each of you in this room are a beautiful flash of light, who reveal the hidden but real presence of God. A God who does deeply care and He will never give up. Such a God, quite frankly, for me, gives me great hope that one day the darkness will die and our long journey will come to an end. But until that day I have the privilege, I have the great privilege of pressing forward alongside each one of you carrying light as we search for roads to cross. Thank you very much.
Not many in the Protestant world, and this is not a very accurate statement, but – but you know, I think we’re like 20 years behind the Catholic world in dealing with this issue.”