“Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.”-Walter Bruggemann
Over the years I’ve had many people, come to me and confide in me things they did not feel comfortable confiding in their spiritual communities. They would share the honesty of their doubts or spiritual disagreements that would endanger them in their churches or workplaces. They felt safer with me, a blabbering blogger, than they did with their own spiritual homes. I could pride myself in that, but the truth is it actually troubles me, saddens me to no end. It shouldn’t be that way. The cost of coming forward or disagreeing should not be seen as equal to throwing away your entire life. Especially in the church. A community established on the rocks of justice, peace-keeping, truth-telling, grace, mercy, warmth, love. Why would something as simple as doubt feel so dangerous in a community called to such higher things? Such fears create cultures of secrecy. They inform us along the way that it’s better for the community to not bring up such things. It’s a false understanding of peace because it believes that the goal of peace is found in the absence of tension. The absence of disruption. All is well as long as we can all sing “kumbayah.”
Dr. King wrote that in his truth-telling movement of non-violence, that he was not the “creator of tension” as so often accused. Rather he said “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
There is a hidden tension so deeply alive in the church and it creates communities of secrecy and quick resolves to alleviate tensions. And because of this, the goal of transformation, of being born again, the work of actually going through the hell and coming out the other side, has been substituted for how much we know about the Bible, how right we are, how many folks gather in our churches, how many hands go up in worship. It’s aligned pastors to be servants to paychecks and the security of employment instead of servants of honesty; tension travelers, focused on the real and raw presence of an eventual Shalom. Instead of stewards of transcendence.
There’s an old saying often attributed to Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”
Dr. King so perfectly summarized his point above. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
There is nothing just about communities afraid of tension. About communities of dishonest or quick resolves that allow them to keep on moving without going through hell. It poisons the body of Christ because it leads to the abuse of the hurt, the broken, and the victims of injustice. It creates victims because it too often refuses and hides their bravery of truth-telling and honesty to maintain the avoidance of tension and uncertainty.
This week several media companies have posted a story about a church in Memphis whose pastor came forward and confessed to his congregation that he had committed a sexual act with a minor, after the victim, now twenty years older, wrote a detailed account of her experience in a blog titled “Silent no more.”
In her account she shared the troubling series of events that followed her sexual assault and her approaching the senior pastors of her church. In it she wrote: ‘Little did I know, the very people I was about to entrust to protect me and help me would not only victimize me all over again but would also engage in a cover up to protect my abuser and the image of the church.”
The church responded by asking for her, a 17 year old High School student, to stay silent until they could properly deal with the matter. An action that allowed the accused Pastor to lead sexual purity seminars and continue his post as Youth Pastor. For weeks she had to carry this to protect the church from any tension or scandal. Until she couldn’t any longer. Even as she confided in a small group of others she didn’t share the entire story based on the shame the Pastors made her feel, and the lead pastors, now forced to do something they should have done immediately, allowed the Sexual Abuser to silently retreat into a new faith community. Allowing the victim to not only be the victim of church gossip but also to be viewed as the individual who sent away a beloved leader. This was viewed by many as her fault. Forcing her to carry the weight of the churches inability to be honest and transparent, for the sake of what could be assumed as some greater good by maintaining the reputation of the body.
Upon the public confession of his doing this to this woman (some twenty years later), saying he believed that the former church, by being forced to fire him, dealt with the matters, was met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause of his entire megachurch congregation. Which reveals the troubling reality that the church, in it’s fantasy for quick resolves and easy forgiveness that allows us to quickly move on from the tensions created by the sins of our cherished leaders, is the purveyor of a great emotional abuse to an untold infinite of victims. That’s a tension that makes me sick to my core. I refuse to ignore it for a false peace.
Again I quote: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
This young woman received shame, not justice. She received emotional baggage, not lifted burden. She received isolation, not community. She witnessed the preservation of happiness and image, rather than healing and liberation. And to to confess something so, so devastating many of these stories have been confided in me also. By friends and strangers. I’ve sat across from so many loved ones and heard countless stories of how the church shamed them when confessing their abuse. What should have been home was not a hug, but a trial.
While I have so much left to listen and learn on topics of women’s rights and all that is entailed in movements like #metoo and #timesup, I choose to use my voice to speak out against the little I have learned. Because just a dip of understanding is enough to enrage any lover of justice and redemption. Of Christ. And just based on the sheer number of women who have shared with me their stories, I’m led to believe that I, as a male minister willing to talk about these things, am in small company. And this my brothers and sisters in Christ is bullshit.
Consider for a moment, that in this male dominated system, if women do not know men who stand up and fight for them it likely means that women do not know pastors willing to stand up and fight for them.
You churches who won’t even allow women to teach, also silence the women who are brave enough to expose that many of your men sure as hell shouldn’t be in the pulpit. You churches who sing the praises of abstinence and sexual purity so quickly look away when the very teachers of these values betray them. Often blaming and shaming the victim to maintain the presence of a satanic peace. And it’s a miracle the women still attend any church. The church that began with the testimonies of women has become a community that silences them. And I feel keen to raise some holy tension. Not coming with some false peace but a sword. Like my Savior that made the men angrily shaming a woman walk away with the tension filled truths of their own lives.
Your applause is an assault on the soul of the abused. Your fast avoidance is an eternal damnation of those who long for healing and justice. Your fear of tension is a chain on the hearts of the broken.
We must change this. Church, your time is up.
We need more women in our church roles of leadership. Women who know the burdens of abuse and assault who bring the proper peace by revealing the tension. This is the bold movement happening so clearly in industries like Hollywood. It’s painful because it’s tension filled. It’s scary. It’s often uncertain. Much of it has yet to be worked out. It feels sloppy at times. Perhaps even mistepped. But it’s the light that reveals the gross un-dealt with tension that has plagued the burdened corners of millions of lives. And in this ugly exposure, we may actually find a peace. We may actually find justice. Church, we may actually be born again.
We learn from the cross that liberation requires an ugly and painful death. One we each much go through in our own way.
When faced with the difficult hell of tension, may we keep on going. So that what is done in the dark, may be healed in the light.
Grace and Peace be with you.