To Hear is to Acknowledge, To Listen is to Love

I remember very clearly the day my sister – my Pineapple Head  – admit to me that she knew she was an addict. It had been at least 10 years since I had known and realised that the morphine she had been prescribed had gone beyond it’s remit to relieve pain and had become an all consuming obsession; 10 years of walking that razor sharp line between hopefully-not-enabling and wanting-to-take-all-the-pain-away. I remember that I hugged her, and told that it was brave of her to recognise it and say it aloud.

And then she looked at me, her eyes filling up with anger, and a kind of shocking, gaping grief. She told me that she had tried to tell our Mum, and it had gone badly. “How can I tell anything else now?”

I really didn’t know what to say, because I knew what she meant by ‘anything else.’ Her secret identity , which she would never admit to anyone else. Pineapple Head longed to be listened to. She ached for it, she desired it almost as much as she desired the drugs – and she could talk the hind legs off a donkey. But though she could talk endlessly, she would avoid saying what she longed to say, because she was terrified that ‘it’ would happen again.

For Pineapple Head, the experience of others hearing her and then shutting down and turning against her, or re-writing what she had said, or ignoring what had been said was a far too common experience. Mostly she wasn’t heard. And if she was heard, she rarely experienced anyone truly listening. People spoke about her – or at least, the person they needed to construct in their minds in order to ‘cope’ with her. Each time it happened, I watched a little bit more of my sister become erased, a little bit more of who she was subsumed into other peoples expectations, another piece of her exchanged for someone else’s idea of who they thought she ought to be. And fear became a more constant, clingy and needful companion.

All through that, and in the years that followed I learnt this – it is not enough to be heard; and I began to understand something else – it is damaging to speak about that of which you know nothing and choose to know less.

A little while ago I was at a 3 day assessment thing (kind of an extended interview for vocational training with the Church Army) with several other people, and one of them particularly made an impression on me, because of the way he listened.  It was active listening in a way that was physical as much as it was spiritual and emotional – he seemed to listen with his whole body. It was remarkable. It wasn’t creepy at all, in fact he was incredibly respectful – it was just that when you spoke to him, he beheld you with his ears as much as with his mind.

It did not surprise me to learn that he was a highly respected pastoral worker in his community and a very effective evangelist: he did not just acknowledge people, acknowledge where they were in their lives – he genuinely respected people enough to listen to them, to their stories. It was a powerful demonstration of beholding through listening, and of his Christian faith.

The importance, the power, the respect and the love carried in the act of listening was evidenced on my twitter time line again today. Mid way through the afternoon Dianna Anderson – who blogs over at Faith and Feminism – tweeted out a ‘donotlink’ to an article in Christianity Today (CT):


@dianneanderson: So did CT/Ms. Becker here actually speak to any trans* people in researching this article or…?

@Leadership_Jnl, #TakeDownThatPost & What You Need to Do so the Apology Means Something

If you’ve been on twitter and seen the hashtag #TakeDownThatPost (started by Tamara Rice) but don’t know the story behind it, then here is a brief summary about what happened:

Earlier this week Leadership Journal (part of Christianity Today) published a piece by a convicted rapist where he was allowed, over several pages, to tell ‘his side’ of the story of what ‘happened to him’ whilst he was a youth pastor. It was stomach churning, vile, triggering stuff. It spoke about his grooming, abuse and rape of a young girl in terms of relationship, mutual consent and ‘their’ mutual temptation. It was, in short, vile.

As I understand it, Leadership Journal felt that this was a ‘cautionary tale’ and therefore important to publish it. (Because of Satan, or something. Yeah. I know).

The backlash was incredible and over the course of the rest of the week, twitter activists – via #TakeDownThatPost – and bloggers voiced their considerable and justifiable hurt, anger and remorse and such an idiotic decision, and the even worse attempts to justify the unjustifiable.  (Links to many of those blogs, which so eloquently and often bravely called out Leadership Journal and Christianity Today can be found at the bottom of this piece. I urge you to read them).

On Friday (the 13th, ironically enough) Leadership Journal then edited the piece and added an editorial that started with the a re-iteration of the reasons for publishing (churches get sued for this stuff you know. Icky, huh?), as well as disclaimer that ‘of course we understand that this was abuse and not mutual’ and ‘he really is sorry about all this’. I am paraphrasing with definite bias because it will give you some idea about the reaction that this decision then generated.  Which was instant and furious. Via twitter, blogs and the Leadership Journal facebook page, people left them and Christianity Today in no doubt at all about where we all stood.

And then late last night the post was removed, and the following apology was printed:

A note from the editors of Leadership Journal:

We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so.

The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no quesiton that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality.

The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.

There is no way to remove the piece altogether from the Internet, and we do not want to make it seem that we are trying to make it disappear. That is not journalistically honest. The fact that we published it; its deficiencies; and the way its deficiencies illuminate our own lack of insight and foresight, is a matter of record at The Internet Archive (

Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.

We apologize unreservedly for the hurt we clearly have caused.


Marshall Shelley, editor, Leadership Journal

Harold B. Smith, president and CEO, Christianity Today International

(It is interesting to note the president of CT co-signed this as they had spent all week telling everyone that this was nothing to do with them – but that’s a side issue).

The sense of relief as we wake up to this news this morning is being felt widely across the internet.  And there are many to thank for this achievement – as Emily Maynard said:

Peace tonight to Twitter activists, listeners, thinkers, writers, survivors & prophets. You are my leaders. Let’s keep showing a better way. @emelina

So I have some first thoughts on what both Christianity Today and Leadership Journal need to do now if their apology (which is a decent one, I will give them credit for that) is to mean anything. As Jesus said, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no: actions have to back up words.

LT clearly have no understanding about the issues of sexual abuse, rape, rape culture and how their understandings of scripture and theology are woefully inadequate. They need to take serious prayerful time to truly grasp how they made the mistake that  they made, not just in the thought process that led to the decision to publish, but the reasons (the honest reasons) why they then tried to edit the piece and why they tried to persuade people that the anonymous rapist was genuinely repentant, where he clearly was not – and as they do so they need that process to be made public.

They need to be honest with themselves – and us – about their need to educate themselves about what abuse and rape are. They need to listen to the victims and those who specialise in helping them.

And they need to continue to be transparent throughout that process.

They need to give space and voice to victims and those who support them, and space and voice to those who are working so hard to counter the culture in the Christian church that gives space to predators to abuse – and who then receive such cheap and worthless forgiveness.

Most fundamentally of all, they need to understand that the victim of the rapist they gave a platform to (and all those who have endured the abuse metered out but a trusted pastor) was re-traumatized by what they did, and they need to prayerfully consider what they can do to make recompense for that.

Samantha Field 

Elizabeth Ester

Suzannah Paul

Libby Ann

Tamara Rice

Dianna Anderson