I Am Not the Exception

When I wrote of my experience of institutional abuse in the church, I hoped, likely foolishly, that my experience was rare.

From the hundreds of emails, stories told in hallways with tears, and letters received from women and men in the church who have experienced degrading behavior and harassment, often by superiors, I can tell you I am not the exception.

I am not the exception to being offended when a male superior discussed my breasts or my vagina and, when expressing my offense, being told I was "too sensitive."

I am not the exception to being encapsulated in an atmosphere where sexual orientation, ethnicity, income level, or any other differentiating facet was fodder for jokes, and any conversation as to why those words or phrases may be offensive was disregarded.

I am not the exception for expressing my discomfort and distress to those in authority, only to have my concerns be ignored, dismissed, excused, or turned back on me.

I am not the exception to feeling so weary, so exhausted, so emotionally beaten that when I finally said, "Enough," I realized I was the one who would slip out the back door with my scars, and the ones whose actions caused the wounds would never be held accountable.

And I am tired of seeing the Church make abuse, degradation, and discrimination not the exception. I am tired of seeing those in power at best ignore and at worst sanction behavior that would be grounds for immediate termination or at least administrative leave in most secular companies. I am tired of hearing accounts of quality clergy leaving ordained ministry and laity leaving their ministries and churches because they have been bruised and battered by this behavior.  These people are not exceptions, nor are they collateral damage; these people - we - are children of God, the very ones whose dignity we vow to respect when we pray the words of the Baptismal Covenant.

When the details of the allegations against the Dean and President of General Seminary and the Board were made public, I realized - again - that the Church is not a safe place. Safety is not dependent upon perfect behavior by each and every person in community. Safety is dependent on how those in power respond to these allegations. We are filled with human beings who often say foolish, damaging, and quite honestly stupid things that hurt others. Our actions often fall far short of the glory of God. Both can be addressed in ways that respect the dignity of all involved. Conversation to understand and correction to amend offered in love are ways we help each other reconcile.

We are not a safe place because those in authority, those in power, those who are charged with the well-being, safety, and pastoral care of the Church, often do nothing. Those with the responsibility to care for that particular part of the Body of Christ, whether it be a seminary, a parish, a diocese, or whatever form of community in which we've gathered, are either are too scared, too unaware of the message their inaction sends, or even maybe too much in the power club to take seriously allegations and to hold accountable those whose words and actions have deeply wounded others.

We are not a safe place because the line between an effective leader who inspires and a person who demeans and threatens those who disagree with him/her seems invisible to many in the Church.

We are not a safe place because leaders, even when they gather to listen, allegedly tell those most vulnerable that there is no safe speech in the church and when that results in someone needing to leave unsafe space, s/he is demeaned.

We are not a safe place because we, like so many of the powers and principalities of this world, choose to blame the victim, demean the victim, attack the victim, or ignore the victim.

I wonder if in the rubble that may be General Seminary, we can realize the deep cost of not being a safe place where allegations of offensive and damaging behaviors are seemingly ignored or buried under intentional unawareness.

I pray that the Church begins to believe that yes, in our midst, in our laity and in our ordained members, there are those whose behavior kills souls, and allowing it to continue makes their superiors and those charged with responsibility and care complicit in that soul killing.

I plead with the Church....please, please, please begin the work of making abuse, degradation, and exploitation the exception to the Body of Christ.


Ann said…
And the Office of Pastoral Development under the Presiding Bishop - where complaints end up -does nothing or worse. Calls for investigations are dismissed, victims -re-victimized. All so terrible. There are few dioceses and bishops who act in responsible and compassionate ways.
Unknown said…
Thank you. Although I am Lutheran, your brave words resonate and mean much to me.
Unknown said…
I am sorry but until these leaders of the Church are abused or at the least made to take courses on abuse -- or... please God are women... they can never fully appreciate what this does to a person, to their souls. Even if they try to be compassionate they miss the mark and end up re-victimizing the victims.

Sadly this is a personal observation and I am writing a memoir about it.... The Safe Church revolution unfortunately was made to keep the clergy 'safe' from victims like me...I can see now how it affects you too...
Anonymous said…
I have the feeling that you know of this quote, but I came across it this morning and thought of you: "God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses." --R.B. Cunninghame Graham

Know that we are with you and praying for you and all who are pushed out and down.

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