Friday

tell it & think it & speak it & breathe it

[Content note: abuse apology, victim blaming, rape, child abuse]



I'm not much of a crier, not typically. Although my heart could burst sometimes for how deeply I feel injustice, my eyes are far more likely to flash with anger, passion, or mischief than spill hot with tears. (Unless we're talking about cinema and soundtracks. When the music soars, I'm a goner.)

And yet yesterday found me weeping, racked with sobs twice. I cried when I read this stunner from Seth Haines, while reading The Fault in Our Stars, and later upon receiving a maddening email from a stranger.

He had written a post condemning scripture's Esther for joining a pagan king's harem and bed. According to the writer, she could and should have refused the king to keep herself "pure;" failing to do so made her a "complicit adulterer." Nevermind that one was a powerful sovereign and Esther a foreign girl descended of political captives, or that women were considered men's property and without rights, or that the modern concepts of consent and bodily autonomy didn't even exist. (They barely exist now, particularly in many Christian circles!)

[You can read the post here, but know it may be extremely triggering. It's worth noting (although the author doesn't) that the post's parenthetical note appeared this week and was not original to the piece.
The author unconvincingly suggests that believing Esther to be anything other than sexually sinful requires believing in perfect heroes, and oddly, he then paints abusers as "monsters", as if abusers (or abuse/rape apologists for that matter) are not also the sorts of ordinary people we know, work with, and love.
Abuse is predatory, devastating, and unconscionable, surely, but conceiving it as something committed exclusively by monsters leads us to disbelieve victims. ("But he's such a nice guy/talented man/respected leader! You must be confused/overreacting/imagining things/lying.") The late addendum doesn't rectify the post's mixed and destructive teachings about gender, sin, and sexuality.]

The author illustrates his point with the story of a woman who was raped as a teenager by her uncle. According to the author, the woman felt complicit in her uncle's abuse of her and found hope in the story of Esther, whom God used despite her "brokenness." The author initially presented this narrative of child victim complicity not only as fact(!) but as something seemingly intended to encourage and teach a lesson: even the most sexually compromised sinners can be redeemed! Glory!

The post had me shaking when I read it the first time and again this week when a new comment addressed to me hit my inbox. This theology isn't just bad: it's abuse apology and victim blaming cloaked in the language of religiosity and grace.

Sexual abuse survivors who have been sinned against require no one's forgiveness. We who miscast blame, heap shame, and side with the powerful and the perpetrators--we are the ones in need of repentance and atonement.

***

When reading Dylan Farrow's description of being abused by her father, Woody Allen; the Vanity Fair profile from 1992; or the recent shitstorm of doubt passing itself off as objectivity, my heart breaks into a million pieces for all the hurting kids who are never to blame for what happened to them, for the ones who never tell, and for those who did and we chose not to believe.

We have a daughter named Dylan, too. At six, she is a voracious reader with sea-green eyes, a playful imagination, and an startlingly sharp mind.

The dark outside is thick like smoke, and I choke to find my breath.

***

The author of that post sent me an email explaining that my comments were deleted because I used "inflammatory language." Perhaps I could have worded things a little differently, he suggested, in order to appear less harsh and encourage more dialogue in his comment section. He even supplied a sample script I could have used.

His email was extraordinarily polite and quite nice in fact, but it was also an outrageously silencing and presumptuous adventure in missing the point. I had been careful with my words. In print, I am nearly always careful with my words. (It is a significantly more difficult task in speech!) I hadn't called names, assigned motives, attacked anyone's character, or engaged in any otherwise untoward rhetorical tactics.

The thing is, I have zero desire to engage in a dialogue about whether or not survivors are complicit in their own rape and abuse, because survivors are not complicit in their rape or abuse. Rapists and abusers are the ones to blame for raping and abusing. Full stop. No apology.

Is that harsh? I can think of a number of things that are considerably harsher, particularly sexualized violence and the cultures and theologies that support, excuse, and enable it to hide and even, to thrive.

When what we are taking about is young people coerced into abusive, exploitative, non-consensual, illegal, and sometimes violent sexual experiences, I have an exceptionally hard time imagining that God cares much about optimizing niceness or even fostering dialogue.

The love of Christ looks far less like monitoring language for civility and more like identifying and subverting oppressive power dynamics, holding abusers accountable, supporting (not re-victimizing!) survivors, and transforming rape culture into something far more reminiscent of the resurrecting, upside-down Kingdom of God.

***

I cannot change, control, or be held responsible for another's actions; I am solely responsible for my own. This realization can be tremendously liberating (particularly within purity culture that blames women for men's sins), but as parents it can be extremely hard to accept that we cannot control either what our children do or what happens to them.

We cannot shield them from every shadow or protect them from every harm, but we can raise our voices (and a ruckus if need be). We can grieve each other's pain and celebrate each other's joy.

We can't stop the darkness from falling, but we can kick at it 'til daylight bleeds though.

We can listen to survivors. We can trust children. We can light candles and a better way together.

Children of the Light,
love the day and Dayspring
and each one as ourselves:
beloved, transforming, and renewed
like the dawn of something better

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