Sunday, February 10, 2008

Forgiveness and Justice-seeking (part 2)

How do we get church leaders to hear the truth?

We start by telling it.

But how do we tell it in a way that they may hear it?

Justice-seeking is one possible way.

For most clergy abuse survivors, the most critical component of justice that they seek is to have their truth told and honored.

When we bring forward the testimony of our truth to church and denominational leaders, we offer a gift.

Our gift is seldom well-received. But I believe it is a gift nevertheless.

We bring to church and denominational leaders the gift of truth and the opportunity to see that truth.

With that truth that we bring comes the opportunity for change and the opportunity for their own spiritual growth. It’s a chance for them to grow in wisdom.

We are the powerless in this battle for clergy accountability. We are the little Davids.

But what our gift of truth offers to all of these Goliaths is the chance to be more fully human and whole.

By refusing to see this truth, it is as though they bring down a clouded jar over their own heads. They stifle their OWN spiritual wholeness.

They are imprisoned in an illusion. We offer them the possibility of breaking the bonds of their own illusion.

Think about it this way: They persist in sticking their heads in the sand. When we seek justice, part of what we do is to make the sand a lot hotter, so that sooner or later, they will have to pull their heads out of the sand and look up and see the reality that surrounds them.

I believe in the ongoing mystery of grace. I believe that individuals and churches can heal from this and can work toward better futures. I believe that. But it cannot be done by turning away from this and refusing to see it. It cannot be done by covering it over... lightly.

This isn’t only about healing for the victims. It is also about healing for churches. For the body of Christ. For principles of faith. For goodness and truth.

By seeking justice, we refuse to cede power to evil.

That evil resides not only in the monstrous acts of the ministers who commit the abuse, but perhaps even more so in a system in which such monstrous acts are ignored.

When there are no consequences for evil, then evildoers are strengthened. By turning a blind eye to such monstrous acts, other church leaders communicate to predatory pastors that their actions are not merely without consequence but are protected. So evil expands and more innocent lives are torn asunder.

By seeking justice, we say “NO!” We refuse to cooperate with the system that ignores such evil. We refuse to be complicit with it. We refuse to participate in its silence. We say “NO!”

Whether we are heard or not is another matter. Whether justice is actually done or not is another matter. Those are things that we cannot control.

What we can control is what we ourselves do. And in that sense, there is honor and truth and dignity in justice-seeking. By doing so, we say “NO!” to the falsity of a system that ignores these monstrous deeds done by ministers.

Many of us have been taught that suing the church in a court of law is somehow wrong. But the people who taught us this are often the same people who shushed us when we tried to talk about our abuse and when we tried to protect others. So I’m simply saying, “think about it for yourselves.”

Justice-seeking in a court of law can be about shining the light of truth. And that is something good.

When you file a lawsuit, it allows for the possibility that the truth may be brought to light in 2 ways:
(1) The lawsuit may allow you to obtain documents and require people to testify under oath and to learn more about who knew what. Not only can you obtain more information about the predator, but you can also obtain information about what the church’s policies, procedures and actions were....or were NOT. I think that is an extremely important aspect of justice-seeking. It can force the church to take a good, hard look at itself and at what it needs to do in order to make people safer in the future.
(2) It allows for the possibility of media exposure. With the filing of a lawsuit, reporters have something they can write about. And that in turn means that information about the perpetrator can be broadcast to the larger community so that you can reach out to other possible victims and so that you can warn people. Even if you remain anonymous and are a “Jane Doe,” that outreach possibility is there when you file a lawsuit. And that is another enormously good aspect of justice-seeking. One thing we know for sure is that, if this scourge is ever to be ended, the bonds of secrecy must be broken.

Someone once said to me that, by speaking up about clergy abuse, and that by bringing so much attention to it, I was doing more harm than good and that I was bringing discredit to the church and to Christians. He said I was “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”

I pondered his criticism, and finally, the pure irony of his words congealed in my head.

When churches cover-up child sex abuse, it is the churches who throw out the baby and save the dirty wash water. It is babies – potential future child victims – who are being thrown away by the churches who cover up and stay silent about clergy predators.

By seeking justice, we try to help them see the reality of what they’re doing - that they are throwing away babies for the sake of saving some dirty water.

Justice-seeking in a court of law is NOT an easy task. But it’s usually the last possibility left for trying to open the eyes of church leaders who don’t want to see.

They wear blinders on this issue, and those blinders are nailed shut. So determined are most church leaders not to see this that it is as though they have chosen to hammer nails straight into their own skulls so as to keep the blinders tightly in place.

When someone is that set in their own blindness, it takes forceful measures to pull the blinders off and to make them see. And sometimes it just can’t be done. But the courts are the last possibility.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just tell our stories, and people would believe us, and church leaders would do something about it? I had my own blinders on about that for a long time, and I imagine a lot of you did as well. I just kept thinking that if only I could find the right person to tell that someone would surely do something. Eighteen Baptist leaders later - across 4 different states - no one had done anything, and my perpetrator was still in the pulpit.

Seeking justice in a court of law is the last possibility for trying to make them take those blinders off.

And I believe that justice-seeking itself can be an act done with a spirit of hopeful forgiveness.

When no one is willing to see the truth, there is not much possibility of reconciliation.

So we keep trying and trying and trying. And justice-seeking is just one more way that we try.

Why do we try so hard? Because we want to protect others. Because we want truth to be known. And also because we want and seek reconciliation for our own healing. Reconciliation with people who were important to us and reconciliation with a faith community that we loved.

There’s nothing easy about justice-seeking in a court. Clergy abuse lawsuits have hurdles that many other kinds of lawsuits don’t have. People who know absolutely nothing will nevertheless say all manner of things against you when you file a lawsuit. And those things will hurt. Church attorneys will likely put you through hell. There’s nothing easy about it.

But we are the ones who keep extending ourselves and trying. Trying to lift their blinders so that they will see. Trying to connect with them. Trying to reconcile.

If we didn’t care about forgiveness and reconciliation, we would simply turn away. That would be a lot easier. But instead, in the process of justice-seeking, we stand there with the door open and we keep hoping and praying that they will finally see this gift of truth that we hold forth.

We hold open the door of our hearts for real forgiveness and not the false premature pretend kind. Not the kind that says “peace” when, in truth, “there is no peace.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The preachers need an intervention. Cut off their resources until they pay the price in the justice system and make amends. Sure, the thief on the cross was forgiven, but he still had to pay the price for what he did according to the governments that God put in authority over the people at the time.