Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
When did the victim become the object of questioning in the church? I've seen this over and over again. Someone is victimized in the church and all eyes look to the perpetrator with a quest to understand why they would do what they are accused of doing. This happens while the victim is either told they need to forgive, or are ignored altogether. This is absolutely infuriating.
Let me give you some examples. These examples are based on real-life, true stories.
First, Sally's story: Fourteen-year-old Sally was molested by a man in the church during a youth event when no one was around for a few minutes. Sally reported this abuse to her mom and word got out when her family tried to get justice and prevent him from hurting someone else. People's responses went like this:
"Oh, I wonder what kind of childhood he had that would make him do that."
"He's always been nice to me."
"I've never seen him do a thing wrong!"
"He's served in this church for years!
"I can't picture him doing that."
"There must be some mistake."
"Sally must have done ......something."
And while all these people are busy taking the perpetrator's side with their words, Sally's life is destroyed, piece by piece. First, her perpetrator took her innocence and violated her. Second, her church family, those she should trust the most next to her own family, betrayed her by shedding doubt on her story in defending him. Third, sympathy for her was quickly minimized while a longing to show compassion for the perpetrator grew. Her family left that church and never went back. Years later, people still wonder why they won't go to that church.
Jack's story: Ten year old Jack was molested in the men's room at church during the service when he went out to go to the bathroom. A few months later, Jack told his older brother. His brother told their parents. The parents told the pastor, who took it to the deacons. The deacons' response was:
"We need to handle this in a godly way; we need to make sure Mr. Perpetrator has a chance to repent."
"We need to make sure Jack is willing to forgive."
"We need to pray and give Mr. Perpetrator the benefit of the doubt. After all, he's served in this church for decades."
"Jack has made a little trouble; his Sunday School teacher said he often doesn't pay attention."
"Does Jack hang out with those other boys who cause trouble?"
"Jack's mom seems to be seeking revenge. We can't let that happen; we might have to confront her. She needs to be godly and forgive"
And Jack's life spirals out of control and gets no justice. He is told he has to forgive and Mr. Perpetrator is free to attack someone else.
Lois' story: The janitor walked in on Lois as she was using the ladies' room. Embarrassed, Lois quickly confronted him and told him to leave. He was belligerent and would not leave the ladies' room. Lois was shocked at the fact that he was in no way embarrassed or uncomfortable while in there with her and he made no move to leave. As a matter of fact, Lois ended up leaving first!
Upset, Lois called her husband, who told her she needed to inform the senior pastor that night. He happened to be in the building and she did inform him. While waiting for him, she informed the building security person, who called their supervisor. Able to hear her on the other end of the phone, Lois heard her say, "Oh, that doesn't sound like him."
While Lois was assured things would be dealt with that night, they were not, and a week later, the janitor walked into the ladies room again, with no warning. Lois watched from the foyer this time, since she no longer felt safe going into the ladies room. It wasn't until Lois spoke up about it again, and her husband intervened, that the leadership of the church finally made a policy about male janitors entering a ladies room.
As for Lois, she's heard "That doesn't sound like him" so many times from all levels of leadership in the church that she no longer trusts any of them. The janitor told the leadership that he apologized to Lois and they were satisfied with that. However, the janitor did not apologize to Lois, he lied to the leadership, and things were not followed up on. As a matter of fact, he smirks when he sees her. Lois has become disillusioned with her church. She does not feel safe using the ladies room unless there is a large crowd in the building.
Dear Church Leaders: In cases of abuse, the victim is your priority, not the perpetrator!
Do not show sympathy to the perpetrator at the expense of concern for the victim.
Do not show compassion to the perpetrator while your victim cowers in a corner with no voice.
Abuse of all kinds is happening in the church. The three examples given in this blog are all true and represent the tiniest fraction of abuse I'm aware of, and I'm just one person! Too many people are not only showing more compassion to the abusers, they are turning a deaf ear to the victims, further victimizing them by shedding doubt on them and not speaking out against abuse.
I will not be silent about abuse I see. Whether it's blatant abuse like described above or a bunch of women ruining another person through gossip, I will speak out and I will not be silent about abuse.
Bonhoeffer was right.