Finding True Justice and True Grace in a #MeToo #ChurchToo Culture

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Several times over the last ten years, I found myself in the city where the man who sexually abused me as a child lived. Most of the time I was terrified to accidentally run into him. Sometimes I became full of rage and fantasized seeing him at a gas station and attacking him. And other times I would get caught off guard by my grief and sit in my car weeping outside the hotel where I was staying.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the myriad of emotions I experienced changed as naturally as the Texas sky in springtime. Sometimes I’d feel guilty about the complexity. Other times I wouldn’t.

I learned that each emotion had its place.

In March of this year, when I found out the man who abused me was never reported to law enforcement, a strong desire for justice gave me the extra courage I needed to walk forward. I felt validated knowing the criminal justice system would handle what the Southern Baptist Convention would not–and could not–handle. I felt a sweeping loss as my mental health suffered. I burned with indignation as this man, who already has taken so much of my life by his actions, consumed more: I lost sleep, I lost time with my daughter and my husband, and lost the easy joy I generally danced in.

There were parts of me that wanted to destroy him. There were parts of me that wanted to destroy myself.

And again, each emotion had its place.

As I worked with law enforcement, my detective encouraged me to not share the name of the man who abused me publicly until they had everything in order for the criminal case they’re working on. They understood this man’s current role and his access to vulnerable people, including children. Yet the benefits of not coming out with his name publicly outweighed the risks in regard to the integrity of the criminal investigation. I respected their wishes then and I respect them now.

Somehow this felt right and good and okay. Even though the only thing that remained between me exposing the man who did this to me was a “publish” button, I never had a total peace about sharing my story in such a public way, most likely because of the condition of my heart. Some people have gone public and done it in a way that glorifies God while respecting the criminal process. I would have shared out of a place of vengeance.

I’m glad I had a little extra space to reconsider going public because, for me, it was not the right choice to make.

have courage and be kind

Since I’ve been offline for most of the last two years, I guess I forgot how ruthless the voices on social media are…myself included. In the last month, since I shared my story online (without identifying my abuser), I’ve clicked on enough hashtags and read enough fodder to lose a little bit of faith in the world (and in myself).

Don’t mishear: there are some pretty awful people who have done some pretty awful things. Many well-respected men and women, especially within the SBC, have had their skeletons come out and be displayed for all the world to see.

In the court of public opinion, most are starting to pay a hefty price for their sins and for their crimes. I want to reiterate that the people who commit these horrid acts–and the ones who cover them up–are ultimately responsible for whatever consequences come their way.

But in all of this, there is something I just can’t get my spirit to shake off:

This court of public opinion–social media, newspapers, blogs–is not and should not be the final destination of justice. However, it seems as if most of us treat it as the highest court of all, damning those who have lied, cheated, stolen, raped, abused, and covered up to a man-made hell of Twitter firestorms, petty insults, unnecessary commentary, and misplaced desires to have the final word.

I understand as survivors of abuse we feel like we have no voice and now we can say whatever we want, when we want, to whomever we want. There is power in rediscovering our voice.

We cannot neglect our responsibility to be like Christ and we cannot evade the call to exercise wisdom with how we discuss these things, especially in public forums.

Justice and grace are not mutually exclusive.

Does the man who abused me, who stole so much of my life from me as a sixteen-year-old and over the last 22 years deserve the justice coming his way? Yes.

Does he deserve grace? No.

But here’s the thing: I don’t deserve that grace either.

I don’t write this in a self-deprecating manner.

I don’t intend to minimize what has happened to me or to the countless number of women and men, boys and girls, who have been abused in the worst possible ways, and in the name of Jesus.

The humbling reality we are faced with in this and in every part of our life is the very basic tenet of the Gospel: God so loved the world that He gave his only son to die for my sins, for your sins, and for the sins of the man who abused me.

This includes his sin of abusing me.

It is a grace none of us deserve but all of us can freely receive.

I’m afraid that the beauty of this grace is being buried alive by the permission we now have to speak freely. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and in our attempt to bring the light into darkness, we are inadvertently suffocating out the Life the world needs to survive.

As we enter into this new climate of finding freedom from abuse that happened to us, let us not use this freedom as an opportunity to cause harm to others in the name of seeking justice.

Let us recognize the same God who sought us out and asked us, “Where are you?” seeks out all of us, even the criminals hanging on the cross.

When reconciliation plays out here on earth, may we remember the love of God that has reconciled us is also available to those who have hurt us.

May we give thanks that all of our brokenness is healed through the same holy man on the same holy cross. This man is near to us when we are brokenhearted and he is near to those who have hurt us when they are brokenhearted. He grieves for us when we are far from Him and he grieves for the world when they are far from him.

As justice begins to shine like the noon-day sun, may our hearts also shine with hope and grace for ourselves, for others, and for the world to come.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor

marydemuth-headshot-squareToday, I am so thrilled to share a guest post from my friend Mary DeMuth. Mary and I met when I worked at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas. People knew I was writing and thought it’d be cool for me to meet a real author, so Mary came in and we chatted. She sent me a copy of her book and told me one day, maybe I’d have my book contract. Two years later, I did.

Beyond writing, Mary and I share a common thread that’s a little more faded, a little thinner. We were both sexually abused. Though our stories differ, our hearts beat the same for helping others know there is hope beyond abuse. We have survived, and you can too.

Here’s a letter from her to you. Or maybe to someone you know.

Love, Anne

(Get Mary’s Book Not Marked as an eBook here and a paperback here.).

***

Dear Sexual Abuse Survivor,

I don’t really like the word victim. Even survivor has a strange connotation. And I’m not too keen on victor. None of those words encapsulate what happened to you, the devastation sexual abuse enacted on your heart. But we’re strangled by language sometimes–even writers can’t adequately express horror.

I much like the word BRAVE. Because it’s so darn brave to walk away from something like that. It’s brave to forgive. Brave to live your life in the wake of sexual trauma. Brave to hold your head high.

First let me say I am sorry. I’m so terribly sad that sexual abuse is part of your story. It’s not right. Someone chose to take something from you–your volition and your body. That person (or people) violated you. They used their power and bully persuasion to overwhelm you with their sinful desires. And now you’re the one left feeling dirty and used–while so many perpetrators walk this earth free. 

It’s not fair.

Some of you feel shame and guilt in gigantic measure, heaped upon you. Some of you feel that you invited the abuse. The way you dressed. The hole in your heart that longed for attention. The equating of sex with love and affection. You feel you wooed the perpetrator somehow. Let me say this: A person who adores and loves you would NEVER EVER violate you. Never. Instead of violation, they would protect. They would pray for you. They would honor your boundaries.

Someone’s selfish gratification is not your fault. Don’t own that. Dare to believe your worth, and allow yourself the feel the grace that God grants you. Forgive yourself. Let yourself off the hook. You were abused. You didn’t want it. Someone took from you–like a thief. They may have used slick words, threatened you, persuaded you that you wanted it, but it’s not true. Thieves are often liars.

In sexual abuse’s aftermath, you’ve possibly thought of suicide. You’ve cut your skin until the blood came. You over-ate. You spent years hard as rock, bitter as horseradish, always vigilant–ready to fight. You’ve protected your heart with ironclad resolve. No one will EVER hurt you that way again. Not on your watch.

All these coping strategies had good purpose a long time ago. They protected you. But now they’re strangling the life out of you. I only say that because I’ve walked the path of isolation and withdrawal. Actually, I spent about a decade of my life keeping the sexual abuse secret. And once I let the secret out, I decided I’d been healed, so I tucked it back away for another decade and lived inside myself–not daring to deeply engage my heart.

An untold story never heals, friend. Isolation only masks the problem.

That’s not living. It’s existing. It’s pushing stuff down that you hope stays submerged forever.

Unfortunately, our stories have a way of coming out–almost always in our actions. We end up hurting those we love. Some people become perpetrators because they never deal with getting better.

I know there are questions. I have them too. 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?
  • Why didn’t He step in and rescue?
  • Why do I have to suffer seemingly forever for something someone else did to me?
  • Why can’t I ever feel normal?
  • Will I ever be able to enjoy sex?
  • Why does my spouse have to suffer for something someone else did to me?
  • What’s wrong with me that I kept being violated?
  • Was I put on this earth to be stolen from?
  • Why am I here?
  • What was it about me that perpetrators found irresistible?
  • Why do other people keep telling me it was a long time ago and I should be over this?

I want to assure you that these questions are entirely, utterly normal. And you should ask them. You should wrestle with them. Some of them will not be answered this side of eternity.

When I feel overwhelmed by the whys and the whats, I stop a moment and consider Jesus. This may not resonate with you because you might be mad at Him. That’s okay. I hear you. But there is comfort in knowing Jesus understands.

He took on the sins of everyone, including sexual sin, upon His holy, undeserving shoulders. He suffered for everyone’s wicked crookedness. And when He hung on a cross, He did so naked. Exposed. Shamed. Humiliated. Bleeding.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3DThat’s why, when I write about sexual abuse recovery, I have to involve Jesus. He has been the single best healer in my journey. He understands. He comes alongside. He “gets” violation.

Sexual abuse is devastating. It pulls the rug out from under your worth. It keeps you scared. It infiltrates nearly every area of your life, consciously and subconsciously.

But I am here to let you know there is hope. Though the healing journey is long, it is possible. When I tell my story now, it feels like I’m sharing about another person’s sexual abuse. I’ve experienced profound healing. It didn’t happen passively or quickly. I had to WANT it, pursue it. I had to stop shoving it down and bringing my story into the light–with praying friends, with counselors, with my husband.

Today I enjoy sex. I can share my story without getting that vomit-y feeling in my stomach. The flashbacks are less and less. I still have moments, of course. But I am so much farther along than I had been.

I want to end this letter with this truth: You are amazing. You survived something traumatic and horrific. You are reading this letter blessedly alive, connected to others. Your story absolutely matters. Don’t let the trauma steal your story of hope today.

Joyfully free,

Mary

***

I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Anne for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

 

The Biggest Scandal in Church History

Lately there’s been some recent scandals that have surfaced in the evangelical world. I won’t link to them, but it’s the stuff you hear about on a fairly regular basis: affairs, assumed affairs, embezzlement, frivolous spending, abuse. My Twitter feed has been bloated with links and articles on how men and women have fallen from their pulpits into sin and devastation.

This morning I read a blog post a friend of mine linked to and cringed – not because of the scandal-du-jour, but because of the assumptions and accusations made by a person who is far outside of the situation.

Recently, a public figure in the Christian world confessed to an emotional-type affair, saying (or implying) the woman he was inappropriately involved with and he did not engage in sexual acts. People have torn into his confession and resignation letter, projecting the assumptions that somehow they were sexually involved, that the man’s wife has no other choice but to endure and is probably ostracized from their community because it is one that is highly patriarchal. That this man will take some time off, but because of his authority and apparent brain-washing, will be back in power again soon. Assumptions are made about the other woman forever wearing a scarlet letter (some assumptions were made she was a virgin and unmarried, neither of which were mentioned in the statement).

Water well

I take two issues with this:

1) So many assumptions are being made in this situation and others like it. Outside of what is stated in this man’s resignation letter, we know nothing.  As Christians, we are called to believe the best and to hope for the best in our brothers and sisters. I understand the temptation to dig, to find the “truth,” to stare at the car wreck, but we cannot do this. It only destroys the beauty of our own hearts as well as tarnishes another at the time when they’re most vulnerable.

2) Although one, some, any of these “scandals” may be true to its worst assumption, we cannot let ourselves ruin a gift we don’t even have the right to have: grace. Grace is the biggest scandal in church history. It is something none of us deserve; something we’re given when we’re hiding in our sin and we meet our Saviour at the well. He offers us life, love, and hope: not condemnation. What will help someone who’s fallen “Go and sin no more?” Our gossip? Our assumptions? Our self-righteousness? Or our love, our encouragement, and our prayers?

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Paul

 

What Should Christians Do About Syria?

I am not a student of politics. I look at issues, I vote, I read the news. On occasion, I’ll show up to a city council meeting if it’s something I really care about (like how the homeless are treated or where bike lanes need to be), but really, that’s about it.

Living in a country that has been at war or intervening somewhere for most of my life seems…normal; I don’t know any different. Watching videos of people being affected by chemical warfare is horrific. I have a friend that works in a high level of government, so high, I don’t really know what this person actually does. I just know there are many overnight meetings at the Capitol that he or she participates in. When I ask if Hollywood portrays an over-the-top dismal version of what actually happens in DC, this person doesn’t answer. That makes me think things are complicated beyond anything you or I could ever imagine.

So, Syria.

A boy is treated by doctors and nurses after sustaining injuries from an airstrike in the Sha’ar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. (TIME/Nicole Tung)

A boy is treated after sustaining injuries in Aleppo, Syria. (TIME/Nicole Tung)

It’s been top on news pages and on news casts for weeks now. I’ve probably followed it as much as an average person follows it – mostly because I feel the need to be engaged and educated but I also feel helpless. I think a lot of us do.

What can we do in our daily routines to actually influence anything? What should we believe? Who should we believe? What is a “Christian” response? What is a “Christian” response, anyway?

I’ve been thinking on this, hearing debates from friends and reading forwarded emails with animated gifs of American flags and yellow ribbons. And I truly believe this is what we are to do.

We are to pray.

I imagine if Jesus was asked what He thought about Syria, or if we should intervene or stay out, much like he did with the yes or no questions He was asked, he wouldn’t answer yes or no. He would share a story, a parable, and point us back to a principle of the Kingdom.

Jesus teaches us to pray Your Kingdom come, Your will be done…

Paul instructs to pray for our leaders, and with thanksgiving make our requests known…

What should Christians do about Syria? We should pray.

It seems almost like it’s too small a response. Like it is the pat answer someone would give when they don’t know what to say. That humble words said over food or from our safe pillows in our safe homes in our quiet evenings would not be enough.

But I believe it’s in these quiet and gentle moments of intercession that a much larger war is being fought and we are showing up and our words may be humble but they are bold and they are mighty because of the Spirit who intercedes for us.

It is prayer.

It is how we can fight.

It is how we should respond.

And this is how we should encourage others to participate as well. It is more powerful than a diatribe on Facebook or our emails with pictures of eagles.

Pray. Encourage others to pray. Seek humility. Fast from something. And pray even more.

 

 

 

Are Forgiveness and Reconciliation the Same?

I never thought there was much difference between reconciliation and forgiveness. In my heart, it all kind of meant the same thing – letting go of pain that someone had inflicted on me. Usually this involved some type of “making up” process involving apologies, sometimes tears, and a hug to make everything alright.

Twelve years ago, somebody hurt me in a very painful, inexcusable way. For years, I didn’t allow myself to work through the pain as I needed to. A couple of years ago, circumstances (which were mostly out of my control) caused me to stare at this wound square in the face.

As strange as it sounds, I’ve never doubted that I forgave this person. I feel fortunate that, for the most part, forgiveness comes easy to me. There are probably only two situations in my life where I know I still need to work on forgiving someone, but this particular hurt isn’t one of them.

However, as I was processing through healing during this time, I began questioning if i really had forgiven this person. Sure, the scabs had been peeled off and the wounds were fresh – and it hurt…badly, all over again.

Someone who was helping me through this sent me an email. He encouraged me and said that what I was experiencing wasn’t me being bitter or holding on (which was what I was afraid I was doing) but that I was desiring reconciliation.

I wanted for this person to own up to the mistake and for everything – painful as it would be – to be okay again.

And I wanted for the relationship to be harmonized and restored completely.

Later, I read this in a book:

Joseph was reconciled with his brothers when they came to Egypt in search of grain. By the time his brothers reached Egypt, he was able to stand before them and confront them because he had no inner feelings that would keep him from having a relationship of unity and peace with them.

Forgiveness is unilateral. You can forgive even if [someone] never admits [their wrong doing], is never sorry, and never changes. But reconciliation requires both people’s commitment to recovery, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and communication. Even then, reconciliation is a long and difficult process of breaking down barriers and building trust.

You may not ever be reconciled with a person that hurt you (or that you hurt).

That part takes both people to work through.

Forgiveness is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for reconciliation.

However, forgiveness is a decision that you make, and continue to make, regardless of the other person’s choice.

And through the cross and grace and love, you can.