Today is Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday’s comin’. Though mandatory social distancing prevents outward celebrations this year, on the inside, I should be celebratory. Truthfully, if I can look beyond the childhood abuse and trauma my brothers and I experienced as teenagers one Easter Eve, and instead look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I will indeed experience joy. Peace. Hope. All the things Christ offers in and of Himself.
But here’s the thing.
I’m tired of there being a thing. I’m weary of traumatic childhood memories resurfacing every Easter. Of having to push past painful memories that make me physically shake at the mere thought of attending church Easter morning while being expected to present as if no abuse ever occurred – just as it was so long ago.
Bottle it up. Shove it down deep. Don’t say anything. Don’t let on that any abuse happened at home. Hide the welts and bruises with your clothing. Greet. Smile. Sing. Chin up, toward the cross hanging on the wall behind the choir.
I’m deeply concerned that what I thought I could narrow down to some freak church experiences growing up are actually common occurrences, still, in today’s churches. I’m grieved, in particular, that women in churches are often not cherished, nurtured, loved, and encouraged to develop their God-given strengths, but rather seen as, by default, power hungry, controlling, manipulative beings who need to learn to submit.
I’m grieved that this happens even to women who are, in their own words, not looking to fill any pulpit. They don’t want to be preachers — certainly not preachers over men. But neither do they want to be treated as though they do not have valid, helpful, genuine, and right (Scriptural) thoughts – even if those thoughts are not expressed in ways a seminary graduate would express them. And for that, the women. as well as their thoughts, are deemed obtrusive.
They do not want to be treated as though changing diapers and bringing potluck dishes to Sunday Brunch are the only things they are capable of, and as though theology is of no interest.
They do not want to be treated as if emotional abuse is not a thing. While it is true that a pastor or other leader in the church cannot be responsible for every emotion a woman feels, it is also true that if a pastor or other leader continually demean women in the church until they feel like unworthy pond scum, there’s a problem. In any relationship, there will be bumps. Hurt feelings can and do arise. But ongoing comments designed to make women feel and subsequently become subservient is wrong.
Last, and definitely not least …
They want to be believed when they come forward with either past or present abuse claims. I would like to insert a disclaimer here. I am not a follower of the #MeToo movement. What started out as a potentially helpful movement has turned into bunk. Women are very capable of being liars, manipulators, and all things depraved (see the case against Brett Kavanaugh, please). They need accountability, and disciplinary actions should take place if it’s ever proven a woman has lied about a man’s character – for whatever reason.
Having said that, the truth is, abuse is not uncommon in church settings. People go to church to feel safe, and often do feel safe. Predators go to church because people feel safe and are therefore less guarded, which gives them ample opportunity to abuse trusting sheep without suspicion. Additionally, pastors and other men in church leadership are prone to developing unhealthy ways of dealing with people, especially when their livelihoods depend on getting butts in seats, or their egos are dependent on making others look and feel less than.
Then you have the added fact that power corrupts. And when power corrupts, abuse very often takes place. In a church setting, where women have been taught to always be kind, submissive, and quiet, abuse can run rampant for years on end because while women are held tightly accountable for their actions, leadership is not. Leadership is just … leadership. They call the shots. They decide who is subject to church discipline and who is not. They are pastors turned judges without a jury. If they say the woman is lying, the woman is lying. And they often make such claims to protect their own livelihoods, reputations, egos, and social statuses.
Oh, and the Gospel, of course. (*cough!)
I’m grieved that women have been abused, disbelieved, and re-traumatized because of that disbelief. I am grieved that I am one of those women. I am incredibly sad that I don’t feel safe in churches anymore, and that my ability to go and worship my Lord and Savior has been hampered by men on power trips. Insecure men who think women are to be quiet, first and foremost. That respect from a wife is numero uno, and if a husband doesn’t love his wife, the blame is automatically placed on the wife. After all, if she would just respect her husband, her husband would most certainly love in response.
Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.
We love Him because He first loved us.
If the husband is the head of the wife, then he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. And if Christ loved the church first, and in response, the church loved him, who do you suppose needs to step up, be a (real) man, and lovingly lead? And what do you suppose any sane, Christian wife would do in response to that loving leadership?
I’d like to submit to you that the wife might actually respond with genuine respect.
I am grieved that so much responsibility has been laid on women’s shoulders because of a failure of men to be godly, respectable, loving leaders, both in a marital and church setting.
I’m weary of all kinds of abuse. I’m weary of decades of working through my own trauma. Progress has and is being made. But I’m continually stuck in the cycle of taking one step forward, two back, two forward, one back, etc. It will not end until I die. I wrestle with God. I wrestle with friends who love me and tell me the truth, because even though the truth hurts, it also frees. I wrestle with never being completely understood. With being powerless to see justice served or even pursued. For what is statutory rape in the eyes of a judge and jury thirty-three years after the fact?
In my state, nothing. Statutory rape is nothing. And that’s a hard piece of dung to swallow.
Mostly, I wrestle with the fact that so much abuse has taken place in a church setting.
This should not be.
Please do not misunderstand. I love the church. I still love Jesus. I am not abandoning my faith. I will continue to attend church – out of staunch obedience if nothing else. But I am weary of putting on the mask, of watching others don their own mask, and of being manipulated to be whatever the current leadership views as “godly.” I’m weary of legalism taking on different forms and fooling those falling prey to it. I’m weary of dishonesty, cover ups, and laziness when it comes to dealing with legit accusations. I’m saddened that much needed closure for many victims never takes place because of lackadaisical, or worse, non-existent Shepherding.
We are The Church. And we can do better.
For me, this Easter will be like so many others. I will work hard to look beyond the hurtful past and toward Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection. There will be grief, but also triumph. There will be sadness, but also joy. There will be inevitable, horrifying memories that will surface in my mind and perhaps my dreams. But I will strive to focus instead on a Savior who came, died, rose from the dead, and is living.
I serve a risen Savior. And though I’m weary, sad, and discouraged about all the things, I am also grateful. In due time, all the things will be made right. Until then, it’s onward and upward.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.