Note: This post is a bit disturbing and I honestly ask you to consider stopping here if you are sensitive. I include an unidentifiable but difficult detail. But my hope is that you will note that I share it as an example of what a healthy church looks like.
I, too, have been pondering the whole Duggar family debacle. One of the best responses is this, written by trendyand2kids. Amen sister.
In Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass refers to 2000-2010 as “The Horrible Decade” for several reasons – one of which is the fact that in 2002 we all learned that five Roman Catholic priests had been accused of sexually abusing young parishioners. We learned that the abuse of children had been systematically concealed for decades by the Church. And it’s ludicrous if we don’t agree that this crime has driven thousands of Roman Catholics – and others – away from the Church. It’s also ludicrous if we fail to see that Protestants are equally guilty of such crimes.
Sexual abuse of children is among the most heinous crimes imaginable. I agree with trendyand2kids regarding what Josh Duggar’s criminal activity has wreaked: Their self image and view of human sexuality for the rest of their lives is now and forever 100% rooted in their first sexual experience, which you forced upon them. They can never get that back, no matter how many times you said you were sorry, or how long you talked to your parents or your church leaders about it. You cannot tearfully “pray away” damage of this magnitude.
But imagine – if we can – the Church being a safe haven against sexual abuse. I strongly believe that this is both possible and part of our calling and mission.
I looked over the calendar and – over the past three years – I have participated in worship in over 50 different congregations. I am often asked to lead in The Children’s Message during Sunday worship. In one particular congregation, while I was sitting with the children, I asked them a question about Jesus or the Bible or something. A couple of the kids offered responses. And then one very young child quietly said this: “Sometimes my brother puts his penis in my mouth.” She said it so quietly that I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. And I’m sure that the rest of the adults didn’t hear what she said. She repeated it and I asked her if we could talk more about that afterwards, and she said yes. So we did with one of the educators and her relative who disclosed that the family was aware of this and she had been advised by her counselor to talk about it with people she trusted.
Friends, meet a healthy church: A child with a damaging secret feels safe enough to share her secret with trusted leaders in her church. No one has given her the impression that she will be shamed or shut down. She is under the impression that she can share most anything that’s on her mind – even something scary.
Imagine a church where even the adults feel safe to share their darkest thoughts and experiences. Imagine a church in which people can share that life is not perfect or even okay. Imagine a safe haven, a true sanctuary.
We cannot be that community unless we each have a deep acknowledgement that we are all broken, all in need of shelter, all born to care for each other to the point of self-sacrifice. We hold each other accountable. We do not hide our misconduct. We show each other what the love of Jesus looks like.
While feeling angry and perhaps even self-righteous about the Duggar family, what can we do to be a safe church? It’s a real question. In a world that is increasingly broken and scary and judge-y, imagine being a community that’s totally safe.