Foreward: “No Passes for You, Third-Party Participants”
The Child Safeguarding Policy is a book helping churches address the serious topic of child abuse. The book explicitly discusses spiritual abuse occurring secondary to sexual abuse:
“According to dozens of studies involving more than nineteen thousand abused children, a large number of maltreated children have not only been injured physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. Child spiritual abuse is abuse administered under the guise of religion. It includes harassment or humiliation and possibly results in psychological trauma or spiritual injuries. Spiritual abuse may include misuse of religion for selfish, secular, or ideological ends.”
In other words, spiritual abuse attacks and injures the soul. Such spiritual attacks MUST be repugnant to God. If that’s the case, why do otherwise “faithful” persons resort to spiritually abusing those who disclose abuse?
There are many reasons: fear of criticism, conflicts of interest, personal stakes in outcomes, etc. But based on our understanding of the Bible, God won’t register any of these as “good cause” for spiritually abusing others. Therefore, in responding to abuse within the church community, an abundance of caution is necessary to protect victims from third-party abusers who may too easily levy positions of power and authority against the already-injured (especially where conflicts of interest exist between parties involved).
The stream-of-consciousness thoughts below admittedly reveal an angry tone. This isn’t unholy, sinful anger. This is righteous anger. Third parties who refuse to speak up for someone who has AND IS being harmed, who remain silent when that victim is forced to plead her own case, and who tolerate others’ castigating that victim ARE NOT following God’s commandments. Worse, they’re telling other victims, “Pay attention. We don’t support troublemakers who get themselves sexually abused here, and we publicly flog agitators vile enough to speak about it.”
God is NOT pleased with such. We could be angry and let anger destroy our souls. Or we could turn anger into action for good. The past cannot be undone. We aren’t judging any who unwittingly found themselves a third-party participant. God didn’t make us your judges. We are simple saying this: know better. Do better.
One sixteen-year-old survivor of abuse at the hands of a church leader said this:
“The most damaging part to me was not the sexual physical abuse, it was the mental spiritual abuse by the people I went [to] and told about my abuse afterwards.”
No Passes for You, Third-Party Abusers
Dear Third-Party Abusers,
Congregants of Doublespeak,
Not the steadfast, unmovable congregants, (no, we’ve seen your steadfast goodness–you braved the heat and dared to stand in flames beside us),
We’re addressing the weaker walk-talk juxtapositions, contradictions,
See, our message to our abusers was simpler–what they did was criminal. Is criminal. We can unequivocally say they acted unlawfully. We are not their property. Never were. Done.
But you, our fellow congregants, our family (we’re all part of the family of God, right?), our friends,
Your silence made the counter-majority argument seem legitimate. And let’s be clear on what the counter-majority argument is:
Either it’s okay for us to openly oppose someone who violently abused us when he continues to stalk, harass, and publicly humiliate us (our argument),
Or it’s NOT (counter argument).
Your silence encouraged the counter-majority rally against us, and you became third-party participants,
Third-party participants–who abused our very existence,
Who, by that abuse, abused our Creator who breathed life into us,
Who explicitly and implicitly shamed us,
Who, in the same breath, called a twenty, twenty-one-year-old man a “kid,”
Who judged a teenage girl for “allowing” herself to be abused multiple times for over a year by this man (a man who trapped his victim in moving cars and kept her confined to continue attacking her),
Who said they had to forgive the guy his “one-time mistake” (though you admit his present behavior amounts to “stalking” the same victim he violently abused years ago),
The third party participants who used gaslighting to manipulate us and others, who atrociously obscured reality,
Who tried to convince us a two-hour abusive trip of “inappropriate touching” (your minimizing and inaccurate words),
More than a year of other inappropriate, humiliating, degrading harassments,
A seven-hour abusive trip of more invasive “inappropriate touching” (again, inaccurate words),
Another seven-hour abusive trip of much worse, more intrusive breaches,
Climbing in the backseat with the girl,
Overpowering the girl while someone else drove,
Threatening more humiliation to coerce silence,
Keeping the girl confined such that her only exit was death by highway,
And keeping that girl in imminent fear of being digitally raped (that girl imminently feared the act of finger penetration, but didn’t know the concept of “digital rape” at the time),
One, maybe two, non-traumatic, simple, “mistakes” of “just a little touching.”
Syntax error. Recalculate.
Who told us that guy’s waiting to target a teenager with what–he conceded–was nonconsensual “fondling” during the teenager’s sleep, while she was trapped in a locked, moving car,
Who told us the man’s unbuttoning the nonresponsive teenager’s shirt (in a separate incident over a year later) and putting his hands inside, under her clothes, groping her breasts above, below, and through her bra, light cupping to hard squeezes, was ‘only touching,’
Who told us that man’s pulling up the nonresponsive teenager’s skort (purchased from the Junior’s Department), putting his hands up that skort to reach the teenager’s privates, putting his hands on her vagina to continuously brush the white cotton crotch for over an hour, and putting his fingers between the elastic and skin, daring, degrading, humiliating, and dehumanizing this teenager for sport–all while his friend drove the car–simply boiled down to “hormones,”
Who responded to a victim’s disclosure of abuse years ago by asking, “Didn’t it make you feel good knowing he was into you?” (who presumed a childhood crush on the abuser years before the period of abuse somehow justified all of the above “horrendous” conduct–sadly, while the response was outrageously offensive and wrong, we know your response was plain ignorance, not cynicism),
Who dismissed the typical after-effects of abuse as mere “personal” and “spiritual” weakness,
Who condemned us for not regularly attending the church that expected that teenager to share a sanctuary, a stand, a pew, and an altar with her abuser (an abuser who had used his position as “service meeting runner” to sadistically hand his victim the Bible just days after abusing her because he wanted to “hear her testimony”),
Who held us out as Satan’s sycophants, said we were inciting chaos on behalf of the enemy (those who did this, save your justifications for God, you’re going to need them),
Who tried to equate the crime of violent sexual battery to adultery between consenting parties (a disturbing assertion and a particularly cruel and disgusting way to discredit a victim who’d never been unfaithful to her spouse),
Who made snide, passive aggressive comments about us in front of an audience–at the pulpit, in testimony, and at altar service–to publicly demote, debase, discredit, disgrace, and dishonor,
Who perjured our character (while we claim no perfection, we have never so much as smoked a cigarette; and in case you forgot, starting during the period of abuse [high school graduation shower, to be exact], our hyper-responsive immune systems are easily triggered, erupting in systemic inflammation to BOTH alcohol and most medications stronger than Tylenol, closing off our airways),
Who planted forgeries about us and our families (knowing you spoke with reckless disregard for truth, at the expense of our physical health and our children’s emotional health),
Who bedeviled us for not regularly attending church beside you–the haters, the condemners, the shamers, the blamers, the secondary harmers (God knows our absence from the church building isn’t only to protect ourselves from the abuser, but also to protect ourselves from you),
Who criticized a victim of abuse for not wanting her repeated molester (who self-reported his acts as “horrendous”) to have unsupervised access to her child,
Who condescendingly said the guy who used force to target, overcome, confine, and harm this teenager multiple times wasn’t a real offender (because, we can only guess, you didn’t believe the teenager was a real person),
Who acted like it was normal for this abuser to give his child that teenager’s given name, and who, in the same breath, said she–his victim–slandered his name when she spoke truth out of reasonable concern (evidence of a coverup in-progress–let’s not call a pig a horse),
Who claim themselves “victims” of the girl abused in the past AND PRESENT when she expresses disapproval of their minimization, marginalization, dehumanization, defamation, humiliation, vilification, and disparagement (the abuser’s use of his victim’s name and other intimidating and humiliating conduct constitute PRESENT abuses),
Who questioned that teenager–now a grown woman–for waiting so long to talk when she was the one who spoke out then and now,
Who were angry this now-grown woman dared go to leaders about, dared speak about, dared write about, dared “involve the church” in abuse that occurred at the hands of a church leader’s son (grandson, nephew, cousin, etc.) during group youth travel to and from church events (forgetting the church involved itself when, back then, it counseled the abuser, sought “his side,” allowed him alone to “answer questions” about his abusive conduct, prayed with him, and simultaneously failed to communicate with the victim at all),
When YOU were the ones whose voices could have made a more powerful difference, and you chose silence then and now—you are the double-minded.
Hot and cold. Confusing right and wrong.
Shades. Workers of darkness. Enemies of light.
You told us we were part of the “family of God.” You taught us 1 Corinthians 12:25-26. Did you teach us these verses in vain? When we were injured before you, you left us for a sacrifice. “Forget these. We need to get back to preaching to ‘simple,’ country folk.” Right? (Yes, we were listening. Waiting. Hoping.)
Your silence is poisonous and murderous. There is culpability that silence. The wolf will answer for his action, but you will answer for your inaction. If you can’t choose righteousness when it’s costly, then you are untrustworthy, unstable in all your ways.
God put such tests before you, too, and you failed, for when the abuser stuck the knife in our backs, it was you who twisted the blade.
You–you. Third party participants. You are the ones who put our private stock up for public trade. You, who whispered about us in your pews, who gossiped in circles, who thought about it every time we entered our sanctuaries. You made our privacies public.
You, who knew the wrongs and pretended we had no rights.
You who tried to convince us ownership was the best we could hope for.
You dirtied the ivory tower, the holiest house of God by making pulpits instruments for mocking,
You transformed sanctuaries into forts from which you hurled angry darts at the easy, innocent marks in your pews,
You have lost your moral stronghold, and you have no right to silence, or own, our experiences any more than our abusers did.
The abuser hurt us. We’d been hurt before, though.
We’d experienced actual, simple inappropriate touches before–
When the kid in sixth grade grabbed our butt a few times in passing, we stopped it and moved on,
When the guy in college, who thought he was being cute, grabbed our crotch, we stopped it and moved on,
When another college guy “made a move” (when we were awake and not confined), we abruptly put up a fight and stopped him,
When we worked with the one guy during college who made a habit out of making lewd, highly inappropriate comments to us, we stopped it and moved on,
When a man more recently approached us in a parking garage stairwell we stopped him, circumvented the situation, quickly ran up the stairs, got in our car, and called the police (the man was arrested days later for assaulting two other women),
We knew too well what a “little inappropriate touching” looked and felt like, and
We knew too well what more than ‘only touching’ looked and felt like.
What was different this time?
Besides the duration of assaults,
Besides the psychological harassment and humiliations between assaults,
Besides the sudden attacks during our sleep (yes, being attacked during your sleep is pretty traumatic),
Besides the trauma of being trapped in a moving car (such that “getting away” would mean jumping into a highway of cars and risking great bodily harm or death),
Besides the power plays and coercive tactics,
The other difference was this.
You, third-party participants, joined league with our abusers.
When we came to you with our hurt, you turned us away. Then and now.
When we showed you our wounds, you chided us as if they were self-inflicted before bandaging us in shame and sentencing us in silence.
You treated us worse than the least. You called us enemies. You slayed, then shoved us into shadows.
When we needed empathy, championing voices, love…you had none.
Worse, you sarcastically said “the devil made us do it,” made us speak (when you know Satan hates the truth).
To you we say this:
No more. You’ve made yourself a participant, and you get no pass. While we hope you forgive us any harshness of tone here, we want you to understand this.
We can disagree on many, many things and, yet, still love one another,
We can love you, and we can forgive you,
We unapologetically draw a bold line in the sand at the place where your disagreement is rooted in our oppression, our silence, our ownership, our harm, and your denial of our right to peaceable existence.
We are sorry the abuser caused all of us pain, but we aren’t sorry for your discomfort.
We bear witness, along with angels above.
We hope to displease you because, according to the King James Bible (a book we love and read, too), displeasing that–that ungodliness above–is the only way to please God.
Make your wrongs right.
You’ve betrayed us, broken our trust. We need more than your private, passive apology.
God, the angels above, other survivors, and future generations are watching. Waiting. Hoping.
Reach out to victims and survivors with empathy and love. Listen to them, believe them, call them, visit them, pray with them, write to them, encourage them, sit with them, eat with them, talk with them, share with them, treat them as equals. Love them.
Not with an inauthentic show of feigned love forced through gritted teeth (survivors of abuse have experience at seeing through charades, and they have a special distaste for fake or token gestures).
If you authentically reach out, understand this. Even though survivors may not be able to respond to your outreach immediately, you are helping them. Your treating survivors with dignity shows good outweighs evil. You are demonstrating the power of love, and you are reminding survivors that they, too, are worthy.
To those who don’t see themselves as third-party participants, the ones who do believe victims and survivors, but who prefer to avoid the conflict of rippling the waters,
Silent support isn’t enough.
Silent support is an oxymoron. Silence is betrayal, and betrayal causes the deepest of pain.
Victims and survivors need your voice, not your silence. Boldly speak up for victims and survivors (to those who have, we’ve noticed, we see your heart, and know, you’re producing good fruit). That’s what the Bible calls you to do.
“Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and the needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9
If you’re a true Christian, then be one in deed, not just word.
When you hear another third-party participant saying hurtful, prejudicial, poisonous things about a survivor, call her out. Let the third-party know it is unacceptable and just plain WRONG to ever lay any blame, criticism, or shame upon someone who had the unfortunate luck of being a violent person’s target.
Vocally lend support when a survivor courageously risks personal reputation and public exposure of personal pain in an effort to reasonably warn others of real, known danger.
Shut down gaslighting and minimizing tactics. Call out euphemisms. Don’t allow anyone else to muddy the waters.
When you hear someone call a violation of another’s body “only touching,” stop them and rephrase, “You mean sexual assault.” When someone says a man who molested sleeping victims is not a “real sexual offender,” respond by saying, yes, a man who acts with a deviant preference/interest for nonconsensual sexual contact with another is the very definition of sexual offender.
When you hear others decry victims or survivors who report crimes, ask them if they think crimes should go unreported. When you hear them denigrate victims who speak openly about what they experienced, ask them why. Ask them if they would say the same about an identity-theft victim speaking about her experience. Ask them if they believe truth, instead, should be concealed (the very definition of “cover-up”). Direct accountability back to the source, the abuser.
Simply put, do what’s right.