The title of this entry is an excerpt of a quote from a docuseries I just finished watching, "The Secrets of Hillsong."
The context of the quote is Episode 3, around the 22-minute mark, in which Kristen Kobes du Mez, a religious historian, says:
"I had been reading survivor blogs. One of the things that I came across that I really wasn't expecting to was just how much conservative evangelicals emphasized authority. You show your obedience to God by being faithful and submissive to people that God has placed in charge of you. They set people up for abusive leadership. And when I listened to voices of survivors, members of their own communities, their own churches, sometimes even their own families, questioned their stories in order to protect the ministry."
A congregant, Brent Peacock, continues to speak about how when some spoke up about abuse, it "resulted in them either being thrown out of the church or being ostracized by leadership..."
In the first episode of the docuseries, toward the beginning, the statement is made, "Like Watergate, the coverup was worse than the crime."
The docuseries exposes abuse from the 1940's, that didn't surface until 2003. In all of the alleged incidences brought to light in this docuseries, no victim or witness went to police. No one went to authoritiies. I think this is most common and usual, though I have heard recent advice that if any illegal action occurs, one must simply go to legal authorities. It is not that simple.
Victims of sexual predators in church settings are often children or adolescents (who may be in their 20's). Perpetrators are usually older, sometimes well-respected men in leadership roles. Minors and young adults are confused. They are traumatized. They are shocked. They are ashamed. They belittle their shame. They are taught to submit to authority figures. They are taught to cover. They are taught to forbear wrongdoing. They may not know how the incident will affect them for decades, and how the effects may worsen over time.
That's my case. I was inappropriately touched and fondled by an older, prominent figure in a leadership role in my church community, while I was in Taiwan for spring break of my sophomore year in high school. I told no one, but there was a witness there, to whom I whispered, "This is awkward."
30 years later, about a year before he died, my dad called me to ask if that brother had inappropriately touched me. I could hear in my father's voice that this matter had tortured him for those 3 decades. Only recently learned from my younger brother that my dad had brought this matter up to him on multiple occasions; yet it took my dad 30 years to ask to me about it.
Why did it take so long? Why had NO ONE asked me about this, though it had been discussed, and my name had been specifically mentioned, among responsible church leaders? Why did the only witness of this matter vanish from my church community around that time? I never saw her again and she had been very visible in my church locality prior to this experience.
When he heard the allegation, my dad had gone directly to the perpetrator to ask if it was true; that older brother/sexual predator utterly denied the allegations. My dad was doomed - he had to either believe the perpetrator (who he dearly loved as a brother) and try to forget about this matter and potentially leave his daughter defenseless, or otherwise believe that a prominent leader in our church circle had violated his daughter and then blatantly lied to him about it. If my dad believed that latter, he had so much to lose - the paradigm he hoped was true would drastically shift, he and our family could likely have been ostracized along with others, and his trust related to the ministry he enjoyed so much could be undermined. So he didn't ask me about it, probably trying to forget about it, until I was 46 years old.
Only when I was about 50 years old (2 years ago), as I was going through seemingly unrelated and unbearable abuse, of which church leaders again were aware and were completely denying, or at least they were doing nothing to stop... my experience of being undefended when I was 16 years old surfaced as an untreated wound.
If we become aware that any member of our community is being abused, we need to express our support, help to guide that person to get whatever help may be necessary, and stop the perpetrator/abuse. It is very difficult for abuse victims to process their pain and trauma; it can take decades. In those decades, much is lost and further damage may be done that could otherwise be prevented, if members in a community do not tolerate abuse.
At another point in this docuseries, someone discusses the foolishness of trying to brush the truth under the rug. The truth doesn't go away. Eventually, it is exposed and it triumphs. But in the meantime, much harm can occur as the truth is concealed. It is the responsibility of any of us who are aware of abuse to stand agains abuse, to stand up to perpetrators, to stop further victimization.
I'm so inspired by every brave person in the docuseries "The Secrets of Hillsong" who either honestly admitted their own failings or who spoke up about abuse they endured. I think as a survivor I can speak for other survivors. We don't speak about these matters to get attention. It is so painful and vulnerable to open up about painful experiences, particularly about sexual abuse. But if we don't speak up, fellow survivors may feel unbearably alone, and perpetrators get way with destructive behaviors.
We should not protect the IMAGE of perpetrators of abuse, or of organizations who wish to conceal such perpetrators.
Instead, we should protect actual and potential victims.