By Geila Rajaee
Talking about the #metoo movement makes me uncomfortable. I’ve spent a lot of time inside of my own head thinking about all of the reasons why. Some of those memories are easier to shake off than others. Some of those memories are a part of my own story. Some of them are from my dear ones. Others, still, are from patients who shared some of their darkest memories and asked me to hold them with them. I’d be lying if I said some of it doesn’t haunt me.
What makes it harder is that some of the moments that come up are related to being in the church. Trust broken by people who are a part of your ‘family.’ Baptized in the same waters. Eating at the same table. In truth, the thought of it simply makes me want to cry.
Abuse is abuse. It takes lots of forms and all of it causes immense and life-long damage.
And then there is the pushback. Sometimes it’s subtle. A simple, “are you sure?” Sometimes it’s a brick wall. “That cannot be true, [they] are a good person.” Either way, the denial is felt down the marrow of that person’s being. There is part of their story, a part of them that you’ve drawn a line around, an impenetrable boundary of discomfort.
Within the church the lines get fuzzier, though I’d argue they should get much clearer. I doubt I could count the number of times I heard calls for forgiveness shortly after abuse was discovered. We’re a forgiving people because we have been forgiven. Sure, that’s true… and it’s also used too often as a blunt instrument to silence someone else.
I think about how stories have been silenced. The stories about theologian and well-known pacifist John Howard Yoder. Or about Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. Old and new, then and now… these stories persist because the Church has failed to confront those who cloak their abuse in toxic theology, who wield an ‘invisibility cloak’ of spiritualized language to conceal their cruelties and exploitations. Those who smile while manipulating and dismantling entire communities while using telling lies drenched in “biblical theology.”
Writing this piece has been a hard one for a plethora of reasons. Like I said, this struck deep. Places that should be safe are not always safe. Relationships sometimes can be damaging. Homes can be splintered, not just broken. Churches are not always places of healing. Religious communities can be toxic, filled with speech coded in violence. Spiritual leaders can use “religious” language to wound, to divide.
It would be trivializing to say that this isn’t what Jesus would want even though it is true. We participate in and/or give permission for actions, attitudes, and words that have and do cause harm. Sometimes we do this with a deep sense of justification because of a theological position or teaching. Or we are so discomforted with what could be true, that we avert our eyes and allow the abuse to continue. The Church is often more complicit than we want to own or bear, but we must see where we’ve got it wrong. How do we expect ourselves, our communities to participate fully in the liturgical experiences of confession? Or to receive the assurance of pardon?
We have missed the mark. And as I recall my Hebrew lessons from seminary, that is the very definition of sin.