50 Pastors, Roy Moore and Matthew 5:29

 

I have never in my life so far, or even once since becoming a Christian, advocated, believed in or approved of anything that looks like the authoritarian practice of ‘shunning’ or disfellowshipping, as it is practiced in various Christian traditions. It’s not an Anglican practice, and my understanding of it is very much in the context of it being practiced abusively by those who have more power, over those who have less. I have witnessed it toxic effects up close, and I do not believe it is healthy practice.

And then I saw that more than 50 Christian pastors had publicly given their support to Roy Moore.

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Christians have never been the most cohesive group of people. Even in the very earliest days of the church, Apostle’s quarrelled amongst themselves, and barely had Jesus ascended from Bethany before the church started writing women out of its formation, leadership and history. Arguably, you cannot trace the evolution of Christian tradition without acknowledging the fundamental role that it’s many splits played, not only in its differing theologies, but in the way that it sees itself, and how it portrays itself to ‘the World’.

Many of those splits could be considered a moral necessity, yet we must also remember the fullness of context: for example whilst Martin Luther was anti-semite,  a legacy that the Protestant church has yet to truly and properly acknowledge, Bonhoeffer’s split with the German Lutheran church helped grow a legacy of theology as resistance, as well as liberation.

Neither is the Anglican and Anglo-Catholic wing of the church without considerable failing – the role the Anglican Church played the treatment of Native peoples at the hands of her missionaries, for example, rightly remains an issue of contention with Indigenous people today .

But the Church is not without a model for corporate repentance, for there are moments in history when the body of Christ must reflect on its corporate sins and repent – as the Church of England did 10 years ago, when reflected on how it backed the slave trade, something which it acknowledged and apologised for. Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, said this:

“The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

The corporate Church across all of its traditions, however, is yet to truly repent for its systemic failure to address its sexual sins: long before those 50 pastors decided to support a man whose personal morality is at the very (very) least questionable, the Catholic Church and Protestants both have come under scrutiny with regard to the abuse of children by its priests and pastors. So the response from  some wings of the Church to the accusations against Roy Moore, whilst immensely disheartening, was sadly unsurprising. Only a day or so before the open letter of support was published by the Alabama Pastors, Franklin Graham Jnr, had tweeted his own support for Roy Moore.

Those 50 pastors represent a small-ish but hardcore group of Christians who assume that a powerful, influential man is more likely to be the victim in the situation than a child; who are so in thrall to a phoney gospel that they will leave the widow and the orphan, and the violated child, out in the cold. It does not matter that I am from a different Christian tradition – it matters only that the body of Christ “..exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors..” – and, indeed, our peers.

Children, in this instance young girls, were used and abused yet these 50 pastors hear those cries and they react first with paranoia, and suspicion. If we will know them by their fruits, and their fruits are as rank, as bitter and as spiritless as this – what place exactly do they have in the Body of Christ?  If abusers are welcome at the table but victims are not, when is it time to cut out the eye that causes us to stumble? Had we already gone past that point when the Church gave slave traders a theology to justify their trade?

I don’t have answers: I do have anger, and hurt and frustration both as a victim, a woman, a survivor and a Christian.Was Jesus not explicit enough when he warned us not to make these little ones stumble? Was he not severe enough we he said it would be better to drown, than to cause such stumbling to a child?

Or will centuries have to pass before we take responsibility, before we humble ourselves again before God, before we say sorry and repent, before the victims receive the justice, and the peace, to which we were called to live out in the first place? And is it time to gouge out the eye, if it means we will see more clearly?

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Deep Fried Mars Bars (Part 2): Let Me Be Weak [CN]

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 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11: 28-3

As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges.  I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.

As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.

In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.

It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.

Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ –  do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.

From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.

Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically.  No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.

There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.

Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance).  The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.

Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness  of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes.  My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.

As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.

Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.

Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.

Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper  Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep

I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.

An Open Letter to @EricBristow on Your Harmful Attitude to Abuse Victims [CN]

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Dear Eric Bristow

It is hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets  – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.

In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people.  Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.

Homophobia

Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers.  However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.

Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this.  It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.

Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.

Think about that for a moment, wont you?

By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.

You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow.  Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.

How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?

Victim Blaming & Shaming:

There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.

Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.

Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:

  • “If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
  • “They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
  • “They should have spoken up sooner…”
  • “If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
  • “If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”

In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.

What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?

Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.

Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?

Do you know what the suicide rate is for men and boys?

 

Your attitude, (and it is not just yours) will do the exact opposite of encouraging victims to come forward.

It will silence them further.

And that benefits nobody but the abusers.

Sincerely

Ali

 

 

 

 

 

They Tie Up Heavy Burdens: When Forgiveness Becomes the Religious Rule of Men

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“But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing”.   CS Lewis, Essay on Forgiveness 1960

Forgiveness – from almost the first moments of his ministry – was at the heart of what Jesus did and said: the forgiveness that he spoke of and practised was profound: indeed it was so revolutionary, so alarming that disciples, followers and nay-sayers alike wrestled with it, poking and prodding at it with a mixture of horror, suspicion and wonder.  For it was not just the rampant forgiveness of others which so awed those around him: Jesus actively sought – and seeks – the same generosity of forgiveness from those who follow him.

The potency of the forgiveness Jesus gave was not just in what he forgave, but to whom he gave that forgiveness. Jesus certainly forgave the system which crucified him: but it was in the forgiving of the sick, the women, the despised and the rejected that the dangerous power of God’s forgiveness challenged mans rule over others. The paralysed walked, criminals were welcomed in to Gods kingdom, women – used and despised by men – were honoured. 

The religious rules made by men to protect themselves, and which made the mad, the bad, the crippled and  women ‘unsuitable’ for consideration of humanity and compassion, were held up to the light and found wanting. These were rules impossible to live by if you were poor, or sick, or not a man. The rich and joyful forgiveness of God, through Jesus, did not just wipe clean the hearts of those forgiven: it challenged societies attitudes. The gates of the kingdom, once denied to those most in need by the rule of men, were thrown open by God.  

These were rules which cared nothing for justice, mercy and faith and the same righteous anger which had swept the money lenders from the temple rose to greet the makers of men’s rule:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…”  Matthew 23: 1-4 & 13-15

Fast forward a couple of thousand years: Christians have apparently embraced forgiveness, seemingly willing to forgive with the same generosity of spirit that Christ called us to. But man’s penchant for the laws and rules that make him comfortable has not been eradicated, and nowhere is this more obvious than in how Christian Churches respond to abuse and rape.  Here we see that the abusers are ‘forgiven’ – or rather excused – and those who are the powerless and the victims are treated as though they have done something for which they should be forgiven, but they are not, and for them there is no love, and not even meagre crumbs of pity from the table.

To be abused is to endure physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual invasion. To recover and find some healing following such trauma can take a lifetime. Those coping with that process should be able to find a lifetime of love and patience from those who claim to be followers of Christ, for Jesus had that to give.  Instead, even if they are believed, victims find instead that their trauma is dismissed, or they are blamed and shamed, despised and ridiculed. The world is already awash with lack of understanding and victim blaming, but there is no safe haven in the body of Christ, for victims are not only met with the same attitude in the church but are then faced with still greater load, for they are told that they must forgive their invaders, their rapists and abusers, in the name of being a ‘proper’ Christian. And if they don’t forgive, then they are guilty – of bitterness, of resentfulness, of lack of faith, of wanting vengeance. Forgiveness has become a rule, a law to be followed, in order to access the gates of the kingdom of Heaven: victims must bow to the rule of man (including their abusers) before they can reach God.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Those who say that abusers ‘made a mistake’ are unwilling or unable to confront the reality of the great harm, the terrible sin, that the abusers are guilty of. And whether it is their discomfort or ignorance, or their desire to remain in control, they have twisted forgiveness into a rule which must be obeyed. They desire compliance to their way of life before the call of Christ or the cries of the victims.

It is time to end the warped teaching of forgiveness in its current form, twisted as it has become under the patriarchal church.  We can no longer allow to be used to keep the powerful comfortable and the abusers excused. It is time to reclaim it, be willing to be challenged again by God and dig more deeply than we have ever done before, and find this beautiful and precious wonder that is true forgiveness.

We must acknowledge that abusers are making a choice when they abuse, and that only they are responsible for the choices they make – and we must learn to stop making excuses for them. They can help it, and there is no stress, or worry, or addiction or depression that can excuse their dreadful choices.  We must acknowledge that their victims deserve belief, and love and care for the rest of their lives, and that their safety must be our priority. We must be willing to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and as righteously angry as God about terrible harm and damage that abuse does.  We must desire to hear the screams of anguish and agony and learn that it is not a lack of faith, or a desire to hold on to that which hurts, which causes those tears to fall weeks, or months, or years later. We must learn all this – and yet more.

And then maybe, maybe, we will start to learn what forgiveness truly is.

Between A Rock and a Hard Place 2: The Gendered Language of God – Speaking Into The Silenced Pain

Henry_Ossawa_Tanneran_Annunciation

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, is she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15: 8-10

God as Mother: She is revealed as such throughout both the Old and New Testament – Her Mother’s love is nurturing and guiding and She is tender in her ministrations as She feeds and comforts Her children. But Her love is not quiet or submissive; indeed it is a love that is roused to ferocious anger in defence of her children, and is as powerfully protective as Mother as it is as Father.

God is She and She is mighty, and she has laboured mightily indeed.

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So often, the mark of the abused is silence – silenced imposed, by the abuser; by a society structured to support the abuser, and by the secretive manner in which abuse is perpetrated. Silence is also internalized: when the abuser is the one with the power, the hope of being heard – of being believed – is as fragile as flame in the path of a tornado, and it is easy for the abuser to manipulate that.

Society enables those who abuse, not simply in upholding the patriarchal, colonial, binary structures which controls human beings and denies them autonomy and voice if they do not conform to the norms imposed. There is a powerful undercurrent of arrogance too: we mock cultures and religions that demand of victims that they produce witnesses to their abuse, because we know very well that it is the secret nature of abuse which protects the perpetrators – yet we too quickly dismiss those who speak up, claiming the word of the victim is not evidence enough.

We paint a picture of abusers as cartoon-like monsters, unable (or unwilling) to comprehend that they are ordinary people living otherwise ordinary lives: when these ordinary people are revealed, rationalisations and justifications then abound. Cloak upon cloak is layered over the abuser, silence upon silence is heaped upon the abused. The innocent become the accused, and myth takes the place of truth.

The Church, with its dominant structural patriarchy and language, repeatedly makes the same mistakes: the focus on the abuser and the lazy theologies fall prey to ‘we are all sinners’, giving rise to a culture that blames the victims because the abuser ‘couldn’t control’ themselves; over and over again, the abuse is minimised (or worse, swept under the carpet) as reputations are prioritised before the victims.

Justice, which should roll down like a river, is stoppered at its source, and the communities of those who are already the most vulnerable and marginalized are silenced by the deafness of those who have not ears to listen; their wounds are left untended and their tears left unheeded.

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Make no mistake – the inability of the Church to confront the systemic culture that leads to this debilitating and ever decreasing spiral will not, in and of itself, be solved simply by confronting the reality that God is revealed as Mother as well as Father. Culture and attitudes do not change over night.

But changing the language we use – the language of prayer, the liturgical language that dominates the rhythms of the daily life of the Church – will help to create a space in which both the silenced can speak and be heard, and the reflection and prayer can start to move and evolve thoughts and – by consequence – actions.

The voices of straight white men dominate in the Church – a Church which fails to recognise abuse, fails to stop it, fails to protect the abused – but succeeds in protecting the abuser.  But God is not only a straight white man.

God is the terrified child being abused, whose abuse is photographed for the gratification of others; God is the black transgender woman who was murdered for being black and transgender; God is the woman who shakes when you touch her, because her husband or father beat her all the time; God is that gender fluid, bi-sexual person who asks you to respect their pronouns, and are weary to the bone of the endless mocking they get for being themselves. God is the girl with the ‘troubled’ past who wasn’t believed when she said that ‘nice’ man was abusing her, whose past was measured against that ‘nice’ man and found her wanting.

We need a church where a victim can speak up and the church will say ‘I believe you’. We need a faith to which creates a space that will provide the abused and oppressed with the liberation and redemption promised to them. We need a church that remembers that Christ condemned those who abuse children. We need a church that remembers its calling is not to protect the powerful, but the weak.

We need a revolution.

Our Mother in Heaven

Hallowed be your name…..

Between a Rock and a Hard Place Pt 1: The Gendered Language of God and Praying to My Divine Parent For A Church That Puts Victims First

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But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 27-29 (NRSV)

If your understanding of the discussion around the gendered language Christians use about God was based only on what you have read recently in the national media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the use of feminised worship and liturgical language was the concern of a few white middle class cis women. And indeed in the UK, WATCH (Women And The Church) who led the successful campaign for women bishops, is driving much of the current  national conversation. I agree with them: I am, however, frustrated with much of the mainstream church discussion** and media coverage. Whilst the Rev Jody Stowell has at least acknowledged that this is also about race, and has written and spoken about the need for more inclusive church for the LGBTIQ community, there is little acknowledgement about how this conversation matters for women who are black, of colour, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, or intersex people – and no acknowledgement at all about what this would mean for victims of abuse, and the intersections of all these.

This conversation of course did not start when Rachel Held Evans was called ‘heretic’ for referring to God as ‘She’, or with the recent discussion at the Westminster Faith Debates. But this conversation matters, because this is not just about sexism and misogyny in the Church. Its also about homophobia, transphobia, and the systemic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse and victim blaming which so plagues, the world – and the Church.

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The medium is the message.

When we [Christians] speak about our faith, our message of the liberation, transformation, reconciliation, forgiveness and – above all – the eternal and encompassing love of Christ, we too often fail to think about who and what we are when we speak it.  Christians most normally fall to the arrogance of assuming that our faith provides us with a mantle that erases whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and gender identity, magically giving us the insight to assume that know and understand what, in fact, we do not. Instead we take passages of scripture (all too often without recognising it’s cultural, historical context) and apply it like a sledgehammer against people and situations.

The overt use of masculine, white, language and imagery when speaking of God to people who find themselves excluded, rejected, oppressed, unloved, and silenced by white masculine cultural, political (and yes, religious) dogma’s of society distorts the message: and it is not Christ that people hear, but the white masculinity that abuses and oppresses them.

So often I see cis, white hetrosexual men claiming a mantle of ‘counter cultural’ and I wonder at the cognitive dissonance which allows them to believe this. There is nothing ‘counter cultural’ about people who embody the dominant power structures, and speak its language, albeit wrapped up in scripture, God and Jesus. It makes the very liberation promised in the Gospel a tool through which the oppressor maintains its dominance. The Gospel stops being hope, love, faith and restoration – it stops being a language of repentance and reconciliation. Instead it becomes a rigid and unbending ideology, the cage within which people are imprisoned, rather than the key which sets them free.

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Regardless of denomination, the Church is not very good at dealing with the abuse: it is too quick to excuse the abuser, and does not listen to and believe the abused. Instead of being people who ‘come out from among them’ to be separate and truly ‘counter cultural’ – instead of going against what the world does when it excuses the abuser and does not believe the abused – it acts with the world. It replaces the excuses the world gives to the abuser (‘he was jealous’, ‘he was stressed’, ‘he was depressed’) with ‘we are all sinners’: the words are different, but for the victim the impact is the same – the abuser had no control, no responsibility. It couldn’t be helped. Forgive them – everyone deserves a second chance.

For the victim, this attitude is tantamount to the trauma and damage being brushed aside, swept away as though it were just dirt on the floor that simply requires a decent broom for everything to be made clean again, potentially deepening the wounds the inflicted. Instead of offering the love and justice of Christ – who would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick – the church offers instead exactly the same as the world does. Thoughtless indifference at best – cruel disregard at worst.

It is an approach that fails the abused – and an approach that makes the possibility of genuine, radical and effective ministry to the abuser impossible.

In the moment that the abused comes forward, instead of finding the mother bear who will love them and fight ferociously to protect and care for them, they are met instead with the embodiment of the very cause of their trauma – powerful people, protecting the person who had the power to harm them in the first place. Instead of the mother crying with and for her child, the abused are met instead with disbelief, or even shame.

This is what the world does – it excuses the abused and shames the victim. Language alone is not responsible for that – but language matters when the weakest, the most vulnerable, those ‘made low and despised by the world’ are found amongst us, or come to us.  The abused should not hear from us the language of the world which despises them, but the God – the parent who is Mother as well as Father – who will take care of them and make them safe.  And they should hear that because that is what the Spirit of God is: both (and neither) feminine and masculine, not one predominant over the other but the Divine parent, taking the best possible care of the children that are so loved that it would, and did, sacrifice anything for them

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**In various corners of the internet, a deeper conversation can be found about feminine images for God, and the use of feminised language.  Here are two posts by Sarah Moon over at Patheos Blogs, which I really love.

 

When Kicking A Football Is More Important Than the Life of Girls: on @SunderlandAFC and Adam Johnson

Sunderland AFC
Sunderland AFC

On Saturday, footballer Adam Johnson will likely take to the football pitch with his Premier League team mates for their match against Stoke City. And this would not be unusual, except that Johnson has been charged with 3 counts of sexual activity with a minor and with 1 charge of grooming a minor.

It is impossible to comprehend the level of disrespect to the young girl – the child – Johnson is charged with abusing that this entails, but the message that Sunderland AFC are sending is clear: the word of a child holds no value and even less worth. Johnson is good at kicking a ball, and the trauma a girl might experience matters less than whether Johnson can put a ball in the back of the net, or help it to get there. Winning matters more than a girls life.

You would think that it could not be possible that in the 21st Century, a professional football club would consider that a young girl’s life would matter less than a game of football, and you might think such an accusation were harsh – after all they suspended him after his initial arrest in March, but when the did so they were facing two difficult matches and potentially a relegation battle.

Of course keeping Johnson playing matters more than a young girl. There seems little doubt that how the coming trial and Johnson’s continued public presence might impact on the alleged victim hasn’t even crossed the minds of Ellis Short and the management of Sunderland AFC.  But there is the wider issue.

The grooming of children and young girls for abuse is a terrifying reality for far too many, day in and day out: whether it be the young girls who – with their families – were disbelieved for years in Rochdale, or the gang of men recently found guilty of the most sickening grooming of young families and abuse of babies and small children,(CN), we hold the lives of children and young girls in little or no esteem. Victims of abuse up and down the country tomorrow will, as Johnson walks out on the pitch tomorrow, be told in no uncertain terms that nobody really, truly cares and that the privilege of a young white sportsman to ply his trade matters more than they do.

It is arguable whether this is less a problem within organised sport specifically than it is in society generally. But as the whistle blows at 15:00 tomorrow afternoon, it is certain that neither Johnson, Sunderland AFC or the fans will even be thinking about anything beyond whether or not a goal is scored.

There is a petition. Please consider signing it.

 

BBC Newsbeat False Rape Story & Why Their Reply Sucks

On the 13th March, BBC Newsbeat (their online news service aimed at 15 – 24 year olds) ran a story which used, as it’s starting point, the recent CPS report which aimed to show how rare false rape allegations are (1) and quite clearly stated, in the article, that the CPS report showed how common they are. (And before anyone jumps in and starts on about how serious/damaging false rape allegations are let me clear: yes, they are – but that is not why this report was deeply flawed and why a good many people are rightly angry.)

Bad Journalism

First of all this was bad journalism – and it was bad because it used the wrong report to cover a difficult subject in entirely the wrong way. Let’s break it down a bit:

  1. 33% of girls have experience sexual abuse. 25% of girls have experienced physical abuse. 75% of girls have experienced emotional abuse. (2009, NSPCC report).
  2. 12.7% of girls and 6.2% of boys in the 16-19 year old age bracket have experienced partner abuse. (British Crime Survey). (2)

So the target audience of Newsbeat is the group most at risk from violent, sexual and physical crime. This is important to understand because the response from the BBC highlights only too clearly that they don’t and it is vital that they do because – as Chloe Emmott’s article in Huffington Post (3) points out – the Newsbeat article does the very thing that Keir Starmer has warned against and which the CPS report is at pains to point out.

Cherry Picking

In the response from the BBC that we who complained received, the following defence is made:

While some people did say our reporting of false accusations was damaging to real rape victims, on our Social Networking sites false accusations were described as “disgusting”, and one young man told us that he felt the bigger problem was that these claims make life harder for real rape victims to be taken seriously. On Twitter another young male listener told us “Allegations of rape not only waste police time but wreck the lives of those accused!” And another wrote: “My 23-year-old nephew was recently accused of rape. He then killed himself. The girl did it again to another guy.” 

And right there, in the lines I have highlighted, is exactly where the BBC shoots itself in the foot because the point of the CPS report is that false allegations of rape are so extremely rare and that therefore neither society nor the police should feel the need to be cautious about any allegation made.

In the BBC response to the complaint they state:

In the fourth line of our story, we quote the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, who says false rape allegations are “serious but rare”.

But they ignore what Mr Sarmer goes on to say, and which is far more pertinent:

“In recent years we have worked hard to dispel the damaging myths and stereotypes that are associated with these cases. One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife.”

If, as is claimed, that they were looking “to help contextualize the story” then the problem is both in the approach to the story in the first place, and the serious mis-use of a vitally important report which ought to help change the culture that allowed Jimmy Saville to get away with systematic and appalling abuse for 40 years.

It’s the same culture that says that leads to young men thinking that the problem for rape victims is false rape allegations, when the problem for rape victims is a culture that shifts the blame from the rapist on to other women.

It’s the same culture that means our young people are at the greatest risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of a partner.

It’s the same culture, where false rape allegations are 0.02% of reports made, that means that this:

For clarity we have changed a word in the second sentence from “common” to “unusual”.

– is what passes for an apology from the BBC.

 

*I have emailed this as my response to the BBC. If they reply, I will update here.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/21016808

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/19/teenage-victims-domestic-violence-definition

(3) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chloe-emmott/false-rape-allegation-statistics-bbc-newsbeat_b_2878392.html