Today, I Look For God In My Rage

Today, I Look For God In My Rage February 12, 2019

If we are searching for God in the present, perhaps a good place to look is the fiery center of our rage?

This weekend, I came across an article from the Houston Chronicle detailing rampant sexual abuse within some churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The stories detailed in the article are heartbreaking. Many of the accused (and some convicted) church leaders are still serving in church leadership. They’re in positions where they have both access to men and women and a position of “sacred” authority. These two elements are key in creating authoritarian forms of abuse in the church.

One particular account in the article flayed my spirit open. It was the story of a young woman who committed suicide. After she revealed that she was sexually abused by a church leader, her accusations were not taken seriously. Church leaders and representatives simply ignored her.

If we want to find God’s presence, perhaps we should look at the fiery center of our rage?

When Rage Asks Questions

The recent responses from SBC leadership is heartening, though many have rightly asked the question, “Why now? Why did it take this article to prompt action?” The reason the question matters is because a motion was placed before the SBC in 2008 to provide greater awareness and oversight of the independent SBC churches in regard to abuse claims.

Mainly because the claims were emerging en masse in 2008.

But the 2008 reforms were roundly rejected. They were rejected by individuals who are still in positions of leadership in the SBC.

Since then, stories of victims have continued to emerge. Not victims who experienced trauma, betrayal, and abuse prior to 2008 but those who have experienced it after 2008. In other words, people who would have benefited from the reforms of 2008.

If we want to find where God is working and active, perhaps we should look at the fiery center of our rage?

Never Read the Comments

The comments on the articles & social media posts regarding this story broke my heart further. The adage “never read the comments” again proves its wisdom.

There is one thread I found in the comments that needs to be addressed, however. I frequently saw comments I would summarize with the phrase, “This is an issue of the Gospel, period, not policy.” I understand the sentiment, I suppose. Dealing with individual sin and brokenness – what I call “non-life” – is definitely a piece of the Gospel.

A piece.

There is a bigger picture of the Gospel, however. It is a picture of the Gospel painted by black theologians like James Cone who see that Jesus’ work does not happen without liberation for the oppressed and marginalized.

Which means you have to deal with the systems that create oppression and marginalization, as well as the singular actors.

The picture emerges that yes, the abusers’ brokenness is an issue. However, the brokenness of church leaders who hear accusations and turn aside must also be placed under the incisive grip of the Gospel.

Personal repentance is critical.
Corporate repentance is as well.

Sometimes it’s a view of God that creates these broken places. Theology within the church that minimizes the predominant – read “mainly female” – voices of the victims is inconsistent with the Kingdom ethic of Jesus.

If we cannot listen, we cannot repent: whether as a person or as a people.
Without finding God in our rage, we won’t know to what we’re supposed to listen.

When Rage Comes Home

These thoughts roll in my head as I read. Pictures of my daughter flash in my mind, taken at the ages of the victims in the article. I think about the deep and irreversible physical damage, the emotional consequences, and the relational challenges that come with early-stage sexual abuse.

The feeling I have when reading the SBC article is very simple: rage. Then the thought occurs to me: 

If we want to find where God is working and active, perhaps we should look at the fiery center of our rage?

Today, I’m walking through this rage. I am looking for God’s wisdom in this rage. It can’t bed down, abate, or grow quiet. But the rage cannot overtake me, either.

Yet the balance is necessary to remind me that formation without the space for rage is formation that will never truly speak to injustice.

I want the rage to push me towards God and His Spirit. We all need Jesus’ ethic about enemies planted deeply in us through our rage. I pray the rage becomes healthy – a beautifully indignant posture.

I know this posture MUST happen because my un-sanctified rage has only “non-life” as an outcome. And still, I pray the rage remains.

We should never come to believe the details of this article are normal.
Stories like these must never lose their sting and their viciousness.

If we lose the ability to enter into the rage of seeing followers of Jesus, leaders, embrace the non-life away from God we will come undone.

Praying Through Rage

I invite you to pray, in whatever way you pray, for those broken by abuse and those who allow the brokenness to continue. Both people are afraid: the former is afraid of more shame and violation. The latter is afraid of losing the only life they understand and possibly the income that sustains their family.

Truly righteous rage searches for the unprotected in our midst. We shield the victims and the vulnerable with our voices, with our prayers.

Let our rage instead gracefully expose the privileged and protected, who stand behind historical and theological shields seeking another victim to groom and destroy.

Pray, in a sense, for the sustained rage to push against that which cannot be Christ. Then and only then will we find the kind of grace that renews, restores, and transforms.

(Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash)

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  • Daniel G. Johnson

    Thank you for this article. That many avoid it, speaks to the silence and the silencing that abused people experience. You have done good here.

  • The Antagonizer

    Increasing diversity is causing widespread depression and anger.

  • John David Shelkop

    This issue is one of the many reasons the church (catholic or protestant) is dying. For the few who are hanging on to their faith and their beliefs, they need to create dialogue with those involved on both sides of the tragedy. The original article from the Houston Chronicle has been gnawing at me since I read it a week ago. I am a Methodist preacher, raised Roman Catholic, and over the years I have developed some great ecumenical friendships. I personally have yet to hear from anybody affected by sexual abuse in the church but I know it happens. I pastor a small church with few young people, but I know that they probably have friends who are victims, not only in other churches but at home as well. It is a huge call for both sides, forgiveness on one and repentance on the other. Those who teach and preach will be held to a higher standard on the day of judgement. One of the things that the Lord will look at is going to be who among us has done anything to erase what Jesus Christ has been writing on their hearts and minds? “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone
    tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to
    stumble.” Luke 17:2 (NIV)

  • cktygrett

    Thanks Daniel!

  • AntithiChrist

    Bottom line, the same Christian deity that sits on its hands each and every time a Catholic priest rapes a child is the same Christian deity that sits on its hands each and every time a southern baptist child is raped.

    To this day.

    I challenge the writer and every reader of this piece to say whether or not they would get off their butt to stop a child rape currently in progress if they knew of one happening.

    That’s a rhetorical challenge, naturally.

    Of course the writer and any non-rapist reader would try to stop a rape in progress, of any kind, if they could.

    That makes every non-rapist reading this piece a FAR better sentient critter than the deity we all look to for moral guidance.

    I think someone needs to find a better deity if there is any to be found.

    At the minimum, ditch this lame one and try to find a fully-functioning-adult solution to the ongoing issue of rape in these religious environments, so attractive to predators.

  • Change is already coming in terms of large swaths of individuals leaving Christian organized religion. For those remaining, a fundamental accountability has to take place. There’s no other way.

  • Robert Conner

    Missing in the to-do list: get the hell out of this toxic “denomination,” this horde of weenie-waggling, bicycle-seat-sniffing, hypocritical perverts and sexual opportunists. Take your children out of their “schools” and stop giving these braying lunatics your money. Stop listening to their propaganda, turn off the psychojabber and LEAVE. Do not for one minute pretend that this is a new problem, that no one in positions of responsibility knew about it for decades, or that the muckety-mucks haven’t destroyed evidence, intimidated witnesses, and do not doubt that they will lawyer up felons just like the Catholic Church.

    The first and foremost impulse of every organization is to protect itself, not you. Leaving this sewer breaks no laws, no one is going to arrest you. Protect yourself and your kids. If you need spirituality in your life, find it somewhere else. It isn’t in the Southern Baptist Church and never has been.

  • Robert Conner

    I’ve long maintained the only reason the Catholic Church has been hit more often is because it’s a bigger target. Protestant churches are international f*ck factories for serial pedophiles and other sexual predators as well. The cure for this isn’t penance, defrocking, and introspection. The cure for this is long stints in prison both for those involved and for their enablers and the only reason that hasn’t happened is “religion.”

    Predictably we will see a host of boo-hoo articles that are essentially sorry-not-sorry apologetic crap. Oh woe is us NOW THAT WE’VE BEEN CAUGHT.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    Far worse: they claim Jesus God is omnipresent and that they work for HIM (a God with a penis), a fact that Jesus God never contradicts. If Jesus God exists and is both not at least calling the police and firing these monsters, then this Jesus Christ is himself a pederast!

  • swbarnes2

    Do you understand that talking endlessly about how angry you are is a real example of “virtue signaling”?

    If you really cared, you’d refuse to give a dime to any church that wasn’t participating in a sexual misconduct database. But that’s too hard, so you won’t do it.

  • cktygrett

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate what you’re saying because it’s important to pair though with action – a helpful reminder. I don’t understand the basis for the final phrase as we don’t really know each other, but I definitely understand the cynicism that comes with seeing religious communities embolden sexual abusers. Thanks for reading!

  • cktygrett

    Thanks for commenting but I can’t agree with you on this.

  • Joshua Sonofnone

    Up to this point I have resisted involving myself in this discussion because of having been a victim of abuse of this type as a child, but I have decided to respond. I will go on record saying I was molested, not raped, but I still don’t like dwelling on what happened because thinking about the event is too close to reliving the event. My opinion is that anyone found guilty of sexually abusing a child should be in prison for the rest of their lives. The neighbor who abused me was not a regular attender of any church. Now, for the lengthier corollary to what I have just written. I am a Southern Baptist minister and I have been a Southern Baptist for nearly 56 years – that’s when I became a Christian in a Southern Baptist Church. I have been in the ministry for nearly 46 years. Sadly, there have been some Southern Baptist ministers who have engaged in the sexual abuse of children. The numbers I have read indicate that this has been confirmed for about 1% of Southern Baptist ministers or less. I would prefer that the percentage be 0%, of course. This means that, so far as we can know it, 99% of Southern Baptist ministers have not engaged in such behaviors. I don’t know what percentage of Roman Catholic priests have engaged in such behaviors, but Roman Catholicism has more than 1 billion members and many more priests than there are pastors in the SBC, so even if the percentages were the same, Roman Catholics would appear to be worse because of the sheer size of their denomination. Someone mentioned their size made them a target and I think this to be correct.
    So far as I know, I have never been part of any church in which this behavior took place and I pray I never am. As one who was a long-time pastor, I would have reported any staffer or member who I had reason to suspect was engaged in such activity – given my history I am not tolerant of such behavior. Not only have I been a long-time pastor of an SBC church, but I have also been a full-time Southern Baptist seminary professor. I won’t reveal the name of the seminary at which I have taught because that would make it too easy to identify me and I don’t want publicity or interviews that would cause me to have to relive the event to which I have alluded. I will tell you that I sought to educate my students about such matters and inform them that they were all mandated reporters under the law. I informed my students that such behaviors were not to be tolerated. Of course I don’t know every other Southern Baptist, but every Southern Baptist I know well would agree with my opinions as to the amount of time in jail that should result when anyone commits such abuse against children.
    Sadly, pedophiles may be attracted to churches because they believe they can have easy access to children in such circumstances. In some cases, those attracted to churches as such a hunting ground for this type of activity are not ministers, but persons who desire to become members. When I was pastoring I had a man who had been convicted of pedophilia call me on the phone in my office, informing me of what he had been convicted of in the past and asking if he could come to our church. Forgiveness is one thing, but I was unwilling to risk having him around our church’s children, so I told him not to come to our church. That is the only time I ever told anyone they were unwelcome at our church.
    Southern Baptist churches have preached against such abuse and all sexual abuse for as long as I have been around Southern Baptists (over fifty years) – we have never condoned this behavior and we never will, but that does not mean that we can prevent every occurrence. Most of our churches do background checks to prevent those convicted of such behaviors from becoming ministers in our churches and I would urge every Southern Baptist church to conduct such background checks.

  • Please don’t think I minimize the suffering of victims, but there is another side to this issue. The churches involved in the study represent about 0.5% of SBC churches. I am a specialist in quality control and that represents a success rate of about 99.5% at preventing sexual abuse. I doubt we can do any better. We should take seriously the parable of the tares and the many statements in the NT of wolves in our midst. The ministry attracts people with serious moral problems who hope the adulation of people in the pews will compensate for their evil. Members are a little too gullible. The combination is a formula for disaster. With those dynamics I’m quite impressed that the SBC has so little abuse going on. This side of Christ’s return, we really can’t expect better. We will never get rid of sin until Christ returns. I think Christians have been fooled by socialists who claim they can perfect humanity in this life with just the right education and regulation.

  • satuit_i

    “Let our rage instead gracefully expose the privileged and protected, who stand behind historical and theological shields seeking another victim to groom and destroy.”

    A noted feature of religiosity is to stand behind theological shields when committing immoral or unethical acts.