Once a week, we walk a loop together around Town Lake. Though Elana is a decade younger, she often seems centuries wiser than me. Maybe it's because she has long pondered the dark side of humanity. Or maybe it's because she carries an ever-present awareness of mortality -- the result of facing down cancer in her 20's. Or maybe it's just in her genes. Whatever the reason, I feel graced by Elana's pragmatic, eyes-wide-open sort of wisdom.
Amidst talk of kids' colds and Texas politics, we also weigh in on weightier matters. Elana was one of the first people to whom I dared mention that I was sexually abused by a Baptist minister as an adolescent girl.
Elana came to a stand-still on the trail. She immediately saw the significance of my small statement and of the fact that I had never previously spoken of it.
Through the pink crepe myrtles of summer and the red sumacs of fall, Elana continued to listen as my story unfolded. While we fended off angry geese, she watched me work at coming to terms with the blasphemous brutality of what a Baptist minister did to me as a kid.
Elana kept on listening. She heard about my efforts at reporting the perpetrator to church and denominational leaders, and about my frustration at their grotesque oblivion.
Finally, she saw me unravel when I learned that, despite all my efforts, the man was still working in children's ministry. That's when Elana started tossing books my way.
She knows my weakness. I'm a bookaholic.
But the kinds of books Elana was tossing made no sense to me. It was all Holocaust literature--essays, poems, and memoirs. I couldn't imagine how any of it could possibly have any bearing on the problem I was encountering.
"Denial," she said. "You need to understand a whole lot more about the dynamics of mass-scale denial."
I kept reading, but I resisted the analogy. I was uncomfortable with any comparison to the Holocaust because it seemed to trivialize the incomprehensible horror of it.
But Elana insisted. "The most important lesson of the Holocaust is about denial in the face of evil," she said. "If people think they're going to wait to see a genocide before they apply the lessons of the Holocaust, then the lessons of the Holocaust are lost."
Evil is a shape-shifter. Recognizing it with the benefit of hindsight is not so hard. The trick is seeing it when it's there in front of you, and finding a way to confront it at the time.
Why do good people do nothing in the face of evil?
That's the question posed by the Holocaust. It is an ancient question that has arisen in countless other contexts.
Incomprehensible evil is done by trusted ministers who use spiritual authority to violate kids' bodies for their own depraved ends.
Baptist leaders clearly have the power and the resources to cooperatively confront this pervasive evil. Yet they collude through silence and denial.
They blind themselves behind a self-made wall built with a perversion of autonomous polity and a faulty forgiveness theology. It is a wall that shields clergy predators and leaves kids in harm's way. No amount of labeling it "religion" will change what that wall really is.
It is moral and spiritual cowardice. It is denial in the face of evil.
As menorahs begin to light the night, I thank God for the goodness of Elana's life and for the courage of a few individuals who saw evil and took action to smuggle a small boy to safety.
And I wonder how many more seasons will pass before Baptist leaders open their eyes to the evil of clergy sex abuse and take action to keep kids safe from horrible harm.
Reprint of my guest column published in EthicsDaily on December 14, 2006.