I also have read dozens of news articles, opinion articles, Facebook posts and tweets about it. Every commentator across every media platform has voiced their emotional responses — shame, disappointment, disgust, rage and a flurry of other responses. They also revealed the many instances of victims being re-traumatized by the release of the report. Many who posted their reactions made vitriolic statements of condemnation.
I do not intend to offer commentary on the Guidepost report. Mark Wingfield has written a comprehensive review of all that transpired. Instead, I offer a particular lens to help us look closer at the report’s conclusions. My lens is this: This subject is personal for me.
This hits where it hurts
The report hit me where it hurts, where it keeps on hurting. The facts in the report, and the news reports that deconstruct it, are more than informative for me; they are triggers that cause a traumatic stress response. I know many people are triggered as well, both female and male survivors of sexual violence.
By the way, do not be fooled by cleaned-up and sanitized semantics. Sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual encounter is sexual violence. Sexual violence is perpetrated by persons who use power and violence to destroy another person’s humanity and sense of self.
Also, do not be fooled by the motives of victims who report violence and abuse. They know what they will face, what reactions and responses they will receive. These are the words written by a 48-year-old victim of sexual violence the night before she was to report what had happened: “I knew that telling the story would plunge me into a place where truth would bring back the pain in all its fury. I was afraid of truth, afraid of remembering the pain of betrayal, afraid that remembering the horror would be as awful as the horror itself had been. And it was.”
“I identify with her. I have been in the place she describes.”
I identify with her. I have been in the place she describes. My trigger reached a tipping point today when an Arkansas news outlet reported that someone I know personally was mentioned in the 288-page report “more than 120 times.” This news, although not surprising, was thoroughly disgusting and repulsive to me.
The news out of Arkansas stated that, “According to the Associated Press, an independent firm conducted a seven-month probe into how the group (SBC) handled abuse reports. … A few senior leaders largely controlled responses to the reports and says survivors were met with ‘resistance, stonewalling and even outright hostility.’”
Needless to say, this is triggering a “#MeToo” moment for many of us who survived “resistance, stonewalling and hostility,” among other acts meant to diminish us. My sexual violence, and that of friends, happened in the midst of the situations covered in the Guidepost Solutions report, inside the Southern Baptist Convention, its churches and its mission fields.
Christianity and violence
I wonder if we might contemplate the idea of Christianity’s complicity with violence. To dialogue about this requires intentional truth telling and a brutally honest exploration of what it means to have “enemies from within.” Just looking at the idea of “enemies from within” creates the innate fear of knowing that one’s safe place contains dangerous predators. I cannot claim to have coined the phrase “enemies from within,” but I definitely know such enemies have invaded my safe places time and time again.
A few hours ago, A Public Witness, a publication of Word&Way, released a scathing overview of the Guideposts document and reactions to it. Written by Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood, the detailed article is full of descriptors like “bombshell,” “systemic evil,” “criminal conspiracy,” “sordid” and “apocalypse.”
They end with this, “Too much time has already passed with too many victims left ignored by a bureaucracy that cared more about avoiding lawsuits, protecting abusers’ reputations, and preserving personal and denominational power. Sackcloth and ashes aren’t enough. Some may also need jumpsuits and handcuffs.”
Taking a turn toward a better understanding about violence within Christianity, I discovered the writing of Brian McLaren. His book Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned explains how the Christian faith initially appeared as a nonviolent spiritual movement of counter-imperial values, the early Christians who exemplified the nonviolence of Jesus. They showed kindness and love, not violence or war. Their creed espoused solidarity and equality, not oppression and exclusion.
McLaren cites a passage of Scripture, Galatians 3, to explain the way the early Christians elevated the idea of equality and friendship instead of the disproportionate nature of hierarchy: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26–28).
However, McLaren also takes us further into the historical reality that revealed an erosion of equality and nonviolence in the early fourth century when the emperor Constantine declared that Christianity would exist as the religion of the empire. Constantine’s declaration led to the acceptance of violence and domination against the empire’s enemies, even enemies from within. To further emphasize the disappearance of a peace-filled community, McLaren writes, “Christianity was not a particularly safe place for Christians … at least not those who chose to differ from the authorities of the church or state.”
“In these days, the abuse of Christians by Christians is not only physical assault but is also a deep emotional and spiritual assault.”
In these days, the abuse of Christians by Christians is not only physical assault but is also a deep emotional and spiritual assault. That kind of assault of the soul and spirit looks like dismissing a report of sexual violence, disparaging the character and credibility of the accuser, diminishing the accuser’s sense of self, launching systemic efforts to cover up abuse, re-traumatizing a person who already has suffered. And do not misunderstand, the violence reported in the 330 interviews conducted by Guidepost Solutions staff documented violence against both female and male victims, violence against adults and against children.
Not referring at all to the SBC and its victims, McLaren offers this analysis: “Shunning and disowning (forms of relational banishment), public shaming and character assassination, private humiliations, church trials of nonconformists, blacklisting, and other forms of Christian-on-Christian cruelty continue, and more and more traumatized people are coming forward with their stories.”
What we can change
Come full circle back to the stories victims told of violence perpetrated against them by “church people.” What’s done is done in regard to the harmful actions of the SBC hierarchy. It is one of those things we cannot change.
“What we can change lies in our commitment to ensure full safety in the places where we live out our faith, ensuring they are sanctuaries of refuge, acceptance and healing.”
What we can change lies in our commitment to ensure full safety in the places where we live out our faith, ensuring they are sanctuaries of refuge, acceptance and healing. We must live our faith with determination never to allow our faith communities to be places of abusive power and violence. In that determination, may we dedicate ourselves to these acts: never closing our ears to truth telling; acknowledging every report of violence; listening to and believing the stories of persons who have been harmed; walking alongside abused persons on a compassionate, healing path; honestly naming the flaws, misdeeds and crimes that occur among us and exposing them to the light; refusing to keep evil secrets that have destructive power; and doing all of this through the grace of hope.
The 12th chapter of Romans, in describing for us the marks of true Christians, illuminates our way by recalling for us a way of dwelling with evil while living into hope, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer.”
May God make it so!
Kathy Manis Findley is an ordained Baptist minister with Greek Orthodox roots. Now retired in Macon, Ga., she spent her 38-year ministry serving as a pastor, hospital chaplain, trauma counselor and missionary to Uganda. She is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is certified in victimology, trauma intervention and child forensic interviewing. She is the author of two serious books, Voices of our Sisters and The Survivor’s Voice: Healing the Invisible Wounds of Violence and Abuse, and just for fun, one Kindle novel.
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