Have you ever read a books where each chapter is written from the perspective of a single character? Some of the ones that are most well written are such that you start to notice inconsistencies, things that don’t quite fit, because what you are hearing is that character’s spin. Gradually you start to get the hang of which characters are most trustworthy, and which characters you should suspect of spin from the first sentence.
I was reminded of this genre when thinking once again over the debacle surrounding the Leadership Journal’s decision to publish a convicted rapist’s story. As many have pointed out, publishing the story alongside analysis pointing to and calling out various themes among those who commit sexual abuse—the manipulation, the selective telling, the grandstanding—would have been instructive. Instead, the Leadership Journal published the man’s account at face-value, publicizing it as a true story of repentance when it was in fact full of excuse-making and worse.
Several commenters took issue with my treatment of the issue, arguing that for all I know the young “victim” may have been as eager a participant as the author claimed. They suggested that the real travesty, from her perspective, might have been having her lover ripped away from her and sent to jail. Leaving aside the problems with these suggestions (and there are many), these comments made crystal clear one of the fundamental problems with publishing the author’s story—they only told his side, and not the side of his victim or his wife. They gave him a platform on which to spin his narrative, and then they patted him on the back. Did the editors even ask his victim or his wife what they thought of how the author told the story?
Publishing the author’s story alongside the stories of his victim and wife would have been incredibly interesting. We would have seen the differences between the accounts, and the author’s spin would quickly have become obvious—and immediately repulsive. Unfortunately, we only have his side of the story—a side the editors accepted as the whole of it without question.
Or do we?
We may not have the stories’ of this particular individual’s victim and wife, but we do have the stories of other offender’s victims and wives. I want to highlight two of these today, and I suggest you click through and read them in their entirety. At moments like these we are in a sense reading one of those books narrated in first person and not always trustworthy. In these moments we have to identify the untrustworthy character, and it’s generally that hard to do so.
First, the story of a woman who, after ten years of marriage, found out that her husband had been sexually abusing a minor female relative for the past three years. Her husband went to court but only received probation. He then spun the story into a tale of redemption and was accepted with open arms by fellow Christians. Meanwhile, his wife made the agonizing decision to divorce, in order to keep herself and her daughters safe from his compulsions and his manipulations, and was castigated for breaking her marriage vows. And so she writes this:
Through this whole process, I learned that much is required of those victimized, while little is asked of sex offenders. When my husband began to spin his story, it was received with affirmations of how courageous he was. He was even placed on the worship team within a few months of his confessions.
In contrast, I was expected to never be angry, bitter, or wrestle with forgiveness. I needed to heal quickly and quietly. And, of course, I couldn’t ever question his “recovery.” His was a wondrous redemption story, and to question his trustworthiness was to question God’s work in his life.
This is the kind of story the Leadership Journal should have printed. Stories like this make clear the ways Christian beliefs and culture can be easy on offenders and hard on victims. This is is the kind of story pastors need to hear.
And then, of course, there are the stories of victims, such as the story of a young women who was pursued at age 15 by her predatory youth pastor, who was over 40. Like the author of the Leadership Journal, he made her think their relationship was consensual, because that is how predators who prey on children operate. While that anonymous author left what his victim suffered out of his story, this victim minces no words:
Save all of us victims of child abuse the “all sins are the same” or “he needs love and compassion and grace.”
All sins do not have the same damn repercussions as others.
All sins do not leave young youth with bitter views of church and its congregations.
All sins do not leave the sinner in jail and the victim in therapy, and sometimes hospitals because of suicidal tendencies.
All sins do not leave young girls with a fear of authority figures.
While you stand on your boat of misguided love, compassion and grace for the child molester, the child is fighting the tidal waves of guilt and shame out alone in the ocean.
Again, these are the stories pastors need to hear. They need to know how what sexual abuse does to its victims. They need to know the lies and modus operandi of sexual predators. They need to know what they can do to reach out to victims rather than pushing them away.
These other stories need to be heard.