“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted:you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:17-18 ESV
In October of 2017, the #MeToo movement was making headlines. Women everywhere were showing solidarity with one another in response to systemic sexual harassment and abuse throughout society. This simple hashtag, along with criminal investigations, finally ended the reign of terror of some powerful men across many industries, including Hollywood, the USA Gymnastics organization, news media outlets, and political circles. Decades of sexual abuse and harassment implicated men like Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill O’Reilly. These men have been accused, and in some cases convicted, of assault, abuse, and harassment of countless women. Yet, they were able to silence victims because of their positions of power and influence.
I read Rachel Denhollander’s harrowing account of sexual assault by convicted offender Larry Nasser in her book What is a Girl Worth? It chronicles her desire to be a gymnast and how an injury provided the opportunity for Nasser, an Olympic doctor, to assault her right in his office. This assault continued for a few visits, until Rachel ended the supposed “treatment”. Shamed and humiliated, like most victims, Rachel kept her story silent for years. Over a decade later, Rachel finally found the strength to confront him, paving the way for other victims to come forth, and eventually bring him to trial. At his sentencing hearing, more than 160 victims read impact statements to the judge.
In addition to these organizations and industries, sexual abuse and harassment have impacted the Christian community as well. Within the past two years, headlines have reported major mega church leaders forced to resign, not only for infidelity, but also for sexual abuse and harassment. The latest headline implicates Ravi Zacharias, one of the most well-respected apologists of the 21st century, with years of sexual misconduct. Just this past summer the Christian community mourned his death with tributes made by the likes of Vice President Michael Pence and Dr. James Dobson. Yet, within a few months, his organization appointed an independent investigation into allegations by several women. Last month, the results of the investigation lent credence to the accounts of many women claiming sexual abuse by Ravi Zacharias. This man’s double life shocked the Christian world!
The part of all these stories that strikes me is how the perpetrators were able to silence their victims through their powerful positions. Even though in most cases there were whisperings of questionable activity surrounding the perpetrator, through slander and fear, they were able to shut down any opposition that arose. In the case of Ravi Zacharias, he destroyed one woman’s reputation and settled out of court with an iron clad non-disclosure agreement to keep her case sealed. I can only speculate as to why she signed the agreement, but my best guess is that it was her only avenue of some sort of justice.
I find these situations troubling and have been wrestling with how to respond. It is easy to look at things and come to obvious conclusions such as “there should be more oversight”, or to shrug your shoulders in disbelief at how this could have happened. But in the case of Zacharias, who always had a personal assistant in attendance, oversight is just not the answer. Obviously, complete disbelief and moving on as if there is nothing we can personally do is also not the answer.
I want to share a few thoughts as I continue to process my opinions on these cases. First, I think it is important that I share my own story of abuse. By no means do I think this is the case for every woman, or man, who has been raped, assaulted, abused, or harassed, but I have reached a place in my healing journey where I feel safe and confident in my ability to be vulnerable in front of others. I think sharing my story, although it is different from others, helps remove some of the shame and isolation that other victims feel.
Second, I need to help create communities that are open and willing to address hard issues. In a lot of these cases, there were people inside the organizations that questioned some of the activities going on but were later shut out for voicing their concerns. This attitude always indicates an unhealthy organization. For an organization to be healthy, the environment needs be open, with all leaders and members humble enough to hear criticism and concerns. This means I need to posture myself with humility.
Third, I need to have compassion for all victims involved, including the perpetrator’s family. One of my favorite authors recently wrote a response about the allegations against her father, the senior pastor of a mega church. She apologized for not responding earlier, but also indicated that she was experiencing her own trauma in trying to process the disconnect between the father she knew and the man that abused other women. My heart went out to her, and I realized at that moment that all these men had families who have also experienced this same trauma. I do not think I have ever actively chosen to have compassion for these families.
Finally, I recognize that in our judicial system, all people are innocent until proven guilty. I am in no way advocating that we change that fundamental principle. At the same time, we must be careful not to dismiss these claims with the narrative that “some women bring false accusations”. This attitude hinders victims from feeling safe and validated. There is a balance and we just need to work on finding it.
I know that this is not typical theme for my blog. Although I have purposed not to be another voice spouting out views on hot trendy issues, I believe this response fits into my blog’s mission. It is important that I grow in aligning myself with God’s way of thinking! Often in scripture, God expresses the importance of taking care of those who are oppressed. The systemic abuse in some Christian circles is a form of oppression that should not only concern me but spur me to action!