The Fallout: How to Help Women Who Say They’re Leaving the Church

The Fallout: How to Help Women Who Say They’re Leaving the Church October 9, 2018

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Jo Naylor

Mary Pezzulo, who blogs over at Steel Magnificat, wrote a column today addressing what not to say when someone you know says they are leaving the Church.

She admonished her readers not to say that you’re glad they’re going and have they read John six. 

I must admit that in all my years of messing with chickens, I never met anyone quite that stupid, but, then, I’m old and out of touch with the new everybody’s-going-to-hell-but-me Christianity. I have witnessed, heard and been the recipient of quite a few ill-wishers down the years who’ve told people, including me, that we were hell-bound and the hand cart to take us there was waiting at the front door. This is usually said with more than a little venom and gloating anticipation of watching me, roasting on a spit. There’s been a definite portion of you’re-going-to-hell-and-I’m-glad-of-it in these snarls. 

I have, in the past few days, encountered three women in my private life who are, more or less, “leaving” the Church. One of them says she’s still Catholic, but doesn’t plan to go to mass anymore. It appears her extended family plans to stay home with her. Another says she is through with the Church and is going to join a denomination that ordains women. The third was never Catholic. She’s slamming the door behind her at the Southern Baptist denomination and says she’s through with all churches. Once again, it appears her husband and kids are going with her. 

Do you notice the pattern here? It’s simple, really. If Mama don’t go, the family don’t go. 

There’s a hard tactical reason why Muslim terrorists kidnap, rape and forcibly “marry” Christian women. Despite their misogyny, they realize that the core of a family, and of society, is Mama. Destroy Mama, and you destroy the faith and the society built on it. 

I think that’s why Satan loves rape and sexual assault so much. If you doubt that rape and sexual assault are among Satan’s favorite ways of getting us to destroy ourselves, consider how often he uses it. Consider also what rape, sexual assault and sex abuse do to us. I’m not just talking about the victims who spend the rest of their lives trying to heal wounds that won’t stop bleeding. I am referring to the total destruction of the spiritual lives of the men — and 96% of sexual predators are men — who commit these heinous acts. 

Think for a moment about the reptilian indifference that so many men evinced toward the suffering of victims this past week. They not only didn’t care about what had happened to these women, they were happy and supportive of other men — including members of the right-wing media and our sexual predator President of the United States — who mocked, belittled, hazed and degraded them. 

This experience of societal indifference to the brutality of rape and sexual assault was a stunning revelation to a lot of women. They had entertained the belief that most men and most people found these crimes abhorrent. It was a profound break for them to discover that this is not true. They looked into the eyes of our leaders and most powerful people and saw the cold, unfeeling eyes of a snake looking back at them.

I’ve seen all this before. But even I was shocked and outraged by the behavior of Christian men, many of whom I had respected and admired for what I had thought was their sincerity of faith. I have also been surprised by how ubitquitous rape on our college and high school campuses has become. 

As I said, I’m old. I had no idea that the number of victims had reached such a saturation point among women. I also had not reckoned with what this says about the men in our society. 

I’ve always believed that, while 1 in 7 women may be victims of sexual assault, that does not mean that 1 in 7 men are sexual predators. I always believed that these crimes were being committed repeatedly by a few men and that other men were supporting them and helping to bully victims into silence because they didn’t understand what was happening. 

I’ve realized these past few days that the number of our young women who are being brutalized this way is probably much higher than 1 in 7.  I’ve also taken a blinders-off look at the behavior of men. 

Our nation knowingly elected a serial sexual predator and crude-mouthed misogynist to the office of President of the United States. Every analysis says that his most enthusiastic supporters were men, and that “conservative” Christians voted for him as a block. I think that an analysis of the public reaction of this past week’s events would probably run parallel to that. 

Since this sexual predator took office, we have watched as the male clergy has supported and bullied believers to vote for a child molester in Alabama, and now to put a man with numerous charges of sexual assault against him on the Supreme Court. During the time the debate about the confirmation of the sexual-predator Supreme Court justice took place, I had a number of conversations with men who I had thought were devout Christians, people who stood for traditional Christian morality and who would be as strongly against the barbarism of sexual assault as I was. Several members of the clergy were included in this group. Almost all of them supported the sexual predator and claimed to believe that all the women were lying.  

At the same time, I’ve been approached by women, again both on-line and in person, who were victims of sexual assault. Many of these women, especially the devoutly religious Catholics among them, are a mess of confused self-blame, self-doubt and “understanding” for their rapist. Some of these women were vociferous in their attacks on the victims who stepped forward during the confirmation. 

It was interesting to me to see how their faith in Jesus Christ had turned into a rancid disrespect for their own humanity. These were self-hating women who wanted, above all else, to distance themselves from what had happened to them.

The other women I talked to, the outraged and angry ones, voiced strong anger, a lot of which was new and unprocessed. This latest assault from the public at large compounded the original trauma and drove it deeper. It was the new, more global trauma of realizing that the institutions of our society, including those who say they speak for Christ, were indifferent to what had been done to them. It was an affirmation that the person who assaulted them was right in his estimation of them: They were nothing. 

Now what does one say to another person in this extremity of disillusionment? How, exactly, do you convince them that Jesus does not share the indifference they’ve encountered, that He, in fact, judges it. 

The only way through this break in faith and back onto the Way is through the Cross. Theological talk and self-righteous pretense are absurdities in the face of this kind of pain and hopelessness. They insult justice and deny reality. But the Cross is the answer, and not just an answer, one among many. The Cross is the only answer. 

I can not and will not lie to these women and tell them that they will ever receive the dignity and respect that they deserve. They will not. 

I can not and will not lie to them and tell them that the male clergy of this world will ever speak out against rape and sexual assault on a regular basis. I once thought this would happen if we just worked with them. But this last week has sent me on my own reckoning with despair. I no longer think they will. 

What I can tell them is that Jesus knows what it means to fall into the hands of human monsters. He understands the pain of being mocked and hazed. He too has faced the indifference of cowardly politicians, corrupt priests, and jeering mobs. Those are the people who murdered Him. 

The people who react with reptilian indifference to the suffering of victims of rape, sexual assault and child abuse are, in fact and in truth, turning their indifference on the crucified Christ. They are back at Calvary, yelling “Crucify Him!” with the rest of the mob. 

That is what I tell them. I tell them that their suffering is part of Christ’s suffering when He hung on the cross. I tell them that they will find that they can bear it if they offer it to Him for the redemption of the world. It is a fact that He can and will turn even this heinous sin into something for good. 

Not that it is good. It is from the pit of hell. But that He only does good and He only makes that which is good. If you give it to Him, he will make something of it that it was not before, and that something will be good and chances are, He will work through you and your passion for justice  to accomplish this. 

Suffering, even this suffering which is meant to degrade, diminish and befoul a person, can become both noble and redemptive when it becomes a gift of love offered through the Cross.

I never tell anyone who is talking about leaving the Church that they must stay. I don’t and wouldn’t dare try to tell them that God is angry with them or won’t love them if they leave. That would be a terrible lie. 

What I tell them is that whether they leave or not, God will continue to love them. I tell them that if they ever decide to come back, their place at His table will be waiting for them. I tell them that the Way, the Truth and the Life are to be found in the disgrace of the Cross.  

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20 responses to “The Fallout: How to Help Women Who Say They’re Leaving the Church”

  1. Just discovered your column here today. Thank you for describing so well what I have been going through. In prayer today I was saying to God, “I know I’m not the only one who is dealing with this….” Dealing with doubts over the church as an institution, and as you wrote here, new anger that is not yet processed. I have a child who was abused at a group home for autism last year. I was stunned at the lack of concern shown by all parties involved, from the school who runs and owns the residence, to the social worker assigned to us, the list goes on. I believe women. I believe survivors. My heart aches for the christian people who still insist on supporting Trump, some even going so far as to claim he is a christian himself. We are not to judge people, but we ARE told to judge fruit. I am a convert to the catholic church, i was a protestant for decades. All around I am angry at our govt, I am angry at american christianity, much of which is more ‘churchianity” than actual Christ following. God and Mary are helping me and I won’t leave Yeshua’s Presence in His Eucharist….but it is Hard!!!

  2. This is a powerful witness. Prayers for you and yours. I understand how stunning the indifference is.

  3. Thank you. Mary’s column was in response to seeing people respond to me — I’ve gotten used to it over the years and to a certain degree it’s only been by watching other people be upset on my account that I’ve even realized that it’s upsetting. I just want to say, thank you. You see me. Even if we do not see eye to eye on everything, you see me. And that makes all the difference.

  4. The cross is also about mercy and forgiveness.

    YES, the sexual revolution and rape culture are one and the same. YES, many of us, myself included, bought into that lie back in the 1970s and 1980s that the only way to show love, was sex. And YES, that did lead to, thanks to a very confused idea of what consent is that is at the center of the sexual revolution, many rapes.

    I disagree that sexual assault comes from a place of hatred or violence. It can, but it doesn’t always. In my case, it came from a lack of understanding of what love is and a profound desire to love the then female cousin that I assaulted. (I say then female because I wasn’t her only abuser, and her reaction in adulthood was to turn transgender. I haven’t had contact with this individual in 20 years and I’m told she is now living as a he- this experience leads to my current homophobia and transphobia, or at least, what the sexual revolutionaries would term as such).

    There’s a profound lack of repentance going on, but there’s also a profound denial of repentance going on. I apologized to this individual 20 years ago, but I’m relatively sure there will be no forthcoming forgiveness from them in this life.

    Kavanaugh, if he even did what Christine Ford and the increasingly incredible accusers accused him of, has not acted that way since 1988 at the latest. The case is so cold that an FBI investigation couldn’t corroborate the claims, or even find credible witnesses.

    If we’re going to start crucifying people for what they did decades ago, we’re going to need to invent time machines and soul readers to find out true intent.

    But I find it interesting that McCarrick gets a pass among some of the writers here at Patheos because he only homosexually abused adult seminarians for the most part, possibly as recently as his trip to China, but 36 years ago a drunken jock who thought a girl was into him tried to take advantage of her and undress her and therefore he should be vilified for all time. A strange disconnect there. Almost as strange as hating Trump for his divorces, but supporting the Democratic party for the genocide of the unborn. I guess we all have our blind spots.

  5. This is an excellent article. Seeing their suffering as part of Christ’s Redemption is a high level of Christianity which all of us pay homage.

  6. QUOTE: our sexual predator President of the United States — who mocked, belittled, hazed and degraded them. UNQUOTE. I stopped reading at this point because, obviously the author hasn’t really grappled with cultural mysogyny.

  7. Emily, I removed your link. I don’t generally allow links in the combox here. If you would rather I just deleted your entire comment instead of editing it, please tell me.

  8. Mama and Papa need to go. We now know it is *both* parents, united in faith, that inspire faith in children. It’s not an either-or, and same sex couples are directly incapable provide the same example.

  9. Ted, first of all, you owed your cousin a profound apology and a sincere acknowledgement that what you did to her was terrible and that you were wrong and were sorry.

    She does not owe you forgiveness. That is her call, whether she forgives or not,

    That is the way it works when a person repents. You stop defending what you did and accept your guilt. You say and know that you were wrong. If the other person forgives you, that is wonderful. But it is a gift, not an entitlement. The forgiveness of God is not an entitlement, either. It is the ultimate gift Consider the price Christ paid for our sins. That is proof that there is nothing trivial about them.

    Again, your sin is not someone else’s sin. You are only responsible for your sin. Period.

    Most Christians in our society have ceased to follow Christ. They ignore any part of the Gospel which does not jibe with their politics or which might call their own sins into question. They try to justify their own sins by pointing at someone else and saying “He did it too!” or “He did it worse!”

    That’s a bit like Jeffrey Dahmer pointing at Hitler and saying, Look at what he did! Why are you picking on me?

    John Wayne Gacy was a Democrat. Does that make what Republican BTK killer did ok?

    I’m using these extreme examples because Christians in today’s America have become so morally muddy because of the anti-Christ teaching that they have received from their religious leaders that it takes something this extreme to draw an analogy they can understand.

    What-about-him-ism does not excuse you and I from our sins. What Kermit Gosnell did does not make what I did ok. It doesn’t make it less wrong. I had to accept that I had been a monster as black as any monster there ever was to the unborn babies who died because of me. I had always thought I was a good person. The moment I understood what I had done was the worst moment of my life. It was like being thrown through a car windshield.

    But it was the beginning of my healing, of God’s using me for good.

  10. Like I said, I’m not expecting forgiveness for this. Not from that side of the family at any rate. I respect their choice, and I’ve stayed away from them for two decades and even avoided some family parties I’ve been invited to, to preserve that wish.

    But I do expect Christians to forgive the sins of others, rather than continually attacking people.

    Perhaps I expect too much, expecting people to accept another’s repentance.

    Perhaps I expect too much, expecting victims to look at intent and not just effect.

    But attacking, continually attacking, never makes it better.

  11. Ted, I see you as my brother in Christ because that’s what and who you are.

    Don’t confuse Justice Kavanaugh with yourself. You are not lying about what you did. You are not unrepentant. You are not participating in the continued public savaging of your victims. You are also not on the United States Supreme Court. That Court belongs to all the people of this nation, and all the people have a say in who goes onto it. The power this man has been given is almost beyond description because it extends into the lives and hopes of hundreds of millions of people, most of whom have not been born yet. This man does not belong on the Supreme Court. His nomination should have been withdrawn. Failing that, the Senate should have refused to confirm him and let the president nominate someone else. None of this would have been a judgement that he is guilty (I say that although I believe Dr Ford.) It would have been an assessment that his confirmation was not in the best interests of the American people and the United States of America. Our elected officials do not consider what is best for America when they decide what to do. Not any more. All they consider is what is best for their political careers and their political party, and even both of those are only considered in the short term.

    Forgiveness does not say that what happened was trivial or that it didn’t happen. It does not reward someone for attacking and mocking the victim all over again. You have not done any of these things. You have acknowledged what you did and expressed sorrow and regret for it. That is 180 degrees off what Justice Kavanaugh did.

  12. ” The power this man has been given is almost beyond description because it extends into the lives and hopes of hundreds of millions of people, most of whom have not been born yet. ”

    If the Democrats had their way, none of those people would ever be born. You know that and I know that. The hatred against the unborn has indeed become extreme.

    Judge Kavanaugh is also your brother in Christ. The life he’s lived since 1988 shows a man who has worked through his previous life and become a man of generosity and forgiveness himself. He has lived an exemplary life of service, and most certainly DOES belong on the Supreme Court if you judge him on what he has done for three decades.

    The FBI report concluded that there was zero evidence Kavanaugh did it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it DOES mean that there is no objective or rational reason to continue to claim that Kavanaugh is a threat to women TODAY. In fact, the Democratic Party couldn’t even find a single complaint against him in the last three decades. Does that not speak to repentance and a changed life? Or must we always and forever call you a genocidal maniac and me a rapist because we ONCE were such?

    Last week you said you’d accept the findings of the FBI investigation. Why aren’t you?

  13. No, Ted, same gender couples are not incapable or providing an example. Why would they be not capable? You are incorrect about that. There are many same gender couples who are religious, and take their children to their place of worship faithfully.

  14. I haven’t had the opportunity to read the FBI investigation. I’m not in the habit of supporting documents I haven’t read. The investigation should be released to the public, so we can judge for ourselves.

    As for the Democrats vs Republican stuff, one does not justify the other. That’s morally bankrupt logic. This was about confirming this specific man and he should not have been confirmed. We could (and shiould) have had a nominee who was both pro life and and pro woman; just like the right to life slogan.

  15. I didn’t state that very well, sorry. Nothing wrong with the link, I just couldn’t listen to her all the way through. I may try again another time.