TW: Child Abuse
It’s amazing to see people come together for a common cause. It’s amazing to see women raise their voices. It’s amazing to see their brothers—both literal and figurative—follow their lead and join their cries.
It’s even more amazing when the urgent and immediate goal, even if it’s just the tip of the iceberg, is actually reached. In a matter of just days. In fact, it’s actually easy to count the hours on this one. And that’s something.
That’s really, really something, friends.
Earlier last week when people like Dianna Anderson, Emily Maynard and Dani Kelley (among others) were already talking about the now infamous “My Easy Path from Youth Minister to Felon” (link later) post at Christianity Today International’s Leadership Journal, I was blissfully unaware.
I was getting my hair done.
Then Wednesday night Caris Adel put the original post on Facebook, without much explanation other than her frustration. And I’m glad I had the chance to read it that way, without any front-loading, without any notice of what I was about to read. Because when read it that way … it was truly jaw-droppingly bad.
Five pages of a 30-something man’s selfaggrandized sermonizing (that included throwing his wife under the bus for not “appreciating” him at home) and then a stunning revelation on the final page that this person he’d be having what he described as an “extramarital relationship” with was, in fact, a student in his youth group—hence the felon part. “You may have guessed by now” was how he put it, but the answer for many of us was no. No, we had not guessed by then. The twist in the story that would make him a felon was not actually expected to be statutory rape—not for most of us, anyway—because he’d described it so vividly as mutual and consensual and, well, equal in every way, including their guilt.
But if you’re repentant for your crime, then it is widely believed that you are able to name it. It’s widely believed that if a person understands the gravity of being a sexual offender, they will in fact mention their 100% full responsibility before a five-page essay on the topic goes public. But he did not, so Dianna Anderson had to write this response post. And then a Leadership Journal editor had to add a tiny footnote at the end to clarify for everyone that the felon actually understood he was “100% responsible.”
But, you see, an editor’s footnote didn’t cut it, when there were already five pages screaming otherwise.
So I shook Wednesday night as I got to the end of the post. And I continued to shake as I got on Twitter to see if others were thinking as I was. Becca Rose was equally as outraged and she (as well as many others) began to tweet to the editors of Leadership Journal, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Feelings from every other time I have taken on injustice in the church overwhelmed me. I saw horrible phone calls from manipulative men who talked to me like a child. I saw cold and even brutal emails or—worse, for me—I saw being completely ignored. I even saw a Facebook page with my name in the cover image alongside the word “fascist,” and people I used to love “liking” it. (True stories of justice work in the trenches, you guys.)
That’s what I saw. And I shook. And my whole body hurt. And I had to walk away.
But I also saw a dear friend. I saw my friend who, when she was 14, was forced to sign a confession of adultery. I saw her. I saw her as I knew her then. I saw her as I know her now, over 20 years later, when some of her scars have to be hidden with bracelets (or long sleeves in summer).
I thought about how much I didn’t understand what was happening to her at the time all those years ago, and I thought of how long it took me to get there, to a place of understanding. I thought about all the years I mistakenly classified what happened to her as “mutual,” because I was so young and naive, and didn’t know how to frame it any other way.
I thought about how she and I actually shared that abuser. The abuser who could perform a surgery as easily as he could preach a sermon that would make you want to stand up and shout amen. A skillful, wily, manipulative and brilliant man whose current pastor believes he is half really, really sorry and half really, really not guilty.
And I thought about how I would feel if Leadership Journal published our abuser’s grand tale of spiritual legacy and missionary work gone awry, woven with illustration after illustration from Scripture AS IF HE NEVER LEFT THE PULPIT, and that’s when I wanted to scream with rage.
The next morning the Twitterverse was still abuzz, and I read the ever-audacious and bold Elizabeth Esther’s blog post demanding that damn post be taken down (let’s call it what it was), and my fear of hostility and rejection and repercussions was gone. I was WITH her, I was WITH everyone else already going at it. All I had needed was that hard push to JOIN the voices.
So this happened.
And I was in awe as things just got louder and louder, with the hashtag or without the hashtag, but then the next day this … yes, THIS happened.
And I think you probably know how it went from there, but if you don’t … check out what ALL OF OUR VOICES accomplished TOGETHER.
Will Leadership Journal stop deleting legitimately critical comments next time a post goes south? I sure hope so.
Will they never again edit a man’s words after we’ve already heard the truth? I sure hope so.
Will they add a “Clergy Misconduct” and an “Abuse” tag to any future posts? I sure hope so.
Will they start getting input from sexual abuse advocates before publishing articles on sexual abuse? I sure hope so.
Will they start writing more about this whole elephant-in-the-room sexual abuse within the church thing?
This horrible, horrible thing that keeps coming into the light again and again and again? I sure hope so.
Because Leadership Journal is a magazine geared at evangelical church leaders, and if we don’t have evangelical church leaders—if we don’t have all church leaders—with us in this fight it will always be uphill. And so HOPE is what I have to do right now. Because too many other matters of injustice feel hopeless. If I look too long at the hopelessness in the battle I have been fighting for that friend of mine and for myself and the others our abuser touched I lose my mind, I really do. I curl up in a ball, because the hopelessness after years of advocacy work with no justice in sight wears thin.
But I’m not curling up in a ball today. Today is a day of hope. Today WE know that TOGETHER we moved a small mountain, and it’s okay if there’s still work to be done. Because this was good. This was really, really good, and when you have lived through how badly these things can go when you start to lose friends and family and not just a few Twitter followers then you KNOW that. You know that TODAY this is GOOD.
So thank you. Because together our voices were stronger. And I’ll always love you for that.
Shoutouts to those whose amazing voices I felt, who I haven’t already named, like Suzannah Paul, Samantha Field, Bethany Suckrow, Micah J. Murray and his anonymous guest-blogger, and Amy Smith, not to mention my sister Deborah Beddoe, my oldest brother Nathan Barrick, my lifelong bosom friend Diana Durrill (who would have been ALL OVER THIS if she hadn’t been stuck in a car driving across country the whole time), and my OWN youth pastor husband Nate Rice (who would have beat the drum too if he hadn’t been busy banging out not one but TWO grad school term papers) and every other person who shared, liked, tweeted, re-tweeted, wrote an email or picked up a phone.
And to the people of #howoldwereyou (which was launched ironically from a very controversial figure among abuse survivors due to her disdain for trigger warnings, Liberty University English Professor Karen Swallow Prior): those of you have survived abuse are so very brave, and I am in awe. That is all. (Read this post for more about that.)
I love you guys. Let’s celebrate. Because (can you believe it?) we DID #TakeDownThatPost!