I need to address a troubling subject, which has affected the lives of many – too many – folks in every community, including ours.
The problem of sexual assault and harassment is terribly widespread: people – nine out of ten times, men – using use whatever power that’ve got to take sexual advantage of someone, for a moment, or a lifetime. The statistics are grim: one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. One in five women and one in seventy-one men will be the victims of rape in their lifetime.
The consequences for the mental, spiritual, and physical well-being of the survivors can be severe and life-long.
After prayer, it has become clear to me I need to speak to this reality in my role as a pastor. The institutions of churches, as well as pastors and priests, have too often not been Christ-like when it comes to abusing power in general. And when it comes to sexual assault and harassment in particular, the church has a long and living history of perpetrating, condoning, excusing, and ignoring such violations of our fellow human beings.
The need is urgent to repent of this abuse of power. It is an evil to turn away from. Churches too often traffic only in cheap grace when it comes to sexual abuse, freeing perpetrators and themselves from accountability. But Jesus never offered forgiveness without costly repentance. The love of God is tough and transformative. We must humbly seek forgiveness and guidance from our God in Christ, and from those who have been harmed, so the church may become a force for healing rather than harm.
Last summer I was deeply moved to be part of the national body of the United Church of Christ as it voted to call on all settings of the UCC to publicly address “the healing needs of adult survivors of child abuse.” I am obligated to live out that call.
Survivors, whatever their age or gender, are not to blame for their victimization. The perpetrators are. God does not will such suffering. Such suffering is due to the wickedness of human beings, violating the purpose for which God created us. This should be uncontroversial. But plenty of crooked preaching has twisted the sense of who bears the guilt for the most heinous crimes.
In case there is still confusion about where our allegiance should be: #JesusToo.
Actually, a lot of people in the Bible, too. I want to lift up Tamar in particular, whose anguished cry went up to God. #TamarToo. From the Hebrew testament we know it is YHWH God who hears the cries of those violated by human wickedness. God is heartbroken over the violence that runs rampant over the earth. And in our Christian testament Jesus as the Christ shows us definitively that God joins us in human suffering, so that we may be led us to soul survival, through the saving power of Christ’s Resurrection.
Why do I say #JesusToo? I’ll spare you the details, as the Gospel writers did, but the Roman practice of crucifixion very often involved sexual humiliation and violence. As conquerors and executioners, the Romans asserted their dominance in every way over their enemies and scapegoats. This included sexual violence against women, men, and children. So, as hard as it is to say, the Roman soldiers who crucified our dear Jesus probably did some terrible things to him off stage. This would have been part of the scandal of the early Christians professing a crucified Savior.
Through the Passion of Christ, God joins us in the unspeakable suffering due to sin. God bears that suffering for us. God embraces us in our brokenness. God then brings us with Christ into renewed life – life eternal! – as beloved children of the living God.
The Passion and Resurrection of Christ stands as a resounding “No!” spoken against the ways people abuse others with their power. The Passion and Resurrection of Christ stands as a resounding “Yes!” for the ways the soul survives and thrives in God’s saving hands. The Church, as the community of the Resurrection, is called to resist the forces of evil and to live out this “Yes!” to the Love of God and the Way of Christ, with the promise of a transformed humanity.
So, let’s do better.