Friday, October 9, 2009

Raise every voice!

People often ask me why I do this. “Why bother?” they say. “Baptists will never change.”

They might be right about that. Maybe Baptists will never institute clergy accountability mechanisms like other major faith groups. Or maybe it will happen long after I’m gone. But seeking institutional change is just one part of why I do this. Here’s another part.

I believe that whenever any clergy abuse survivor speaks out, it plants a seed in someone else’s head. One person’s voice begins the process of another person gaining their own voice.

Every clergy abuse survivor who speaks out helps some other clergy abuse survivor on their own journey of understanding and recovery.

A few days ago, I was reminded of this when I received this email from a courageous young woman named Sarah Parsons.

“I emailed you about 3 years ago, I live in Ontario, Canada. I am 23 now and I was abused by a pastor starting at the age of 15. When I saw you on T.V. talking about your story, you inspired me to take a stand and expose the pastor that abused me. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story to the world, you have given me the strength to break the silence.

I filed a civil suit and a few weeks ago the pastor and the church (who tried to hide it) were served the papers. It is in the media now, in my hometown. I felt scared and ashamed when it became public. But I visit your website and I know I am doing the right thing. He is denying it now though, which I expected. But I am going to do whatever it takes to get my story out, so he can not get back into another church. The congregation at the church he is preaching at now, needs to know. I could not let him hurt anyone else....

Thank you for your courage, you are an inspiration to me.”
I wrote Sarah back to tell her that her email was an encouragement to me and that, by making her story public, she herself was certainly an inspiration to many others.

Sarah said: “I know that I will never put an end to clergy sexual abuse, but if I can help one person realize that it is not their fault and they are not alone, then it is worth it.”

Sarah summed it up perfectly, but I am also reminded of an Emily Dickinson poem:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

You can read the news report on Sarah’s story here. It involves a Pentecostal church.

Kudos to Sarah!


Chris Wright said...

I'm so proud of you Sarah! You're definitely doing the right thing, and I'm happy to see that there are so many wonderful people out there to support you. It's important to spread the word about these crimes, as it is the silence of victims past that enable the victimization of others.

Christa Brown said...

Chris said: "... as it is the silence of victims past that enable the victimization of others."

Perhaps Chris didn't intend his statement in this way ... but I want to be very, very clear about something: It is NEVER the fault of the victims for enabling the victimization of others. The silence of victims is part of the psychological trauma and damage that is inflicted by the perpetrators. The victims are not responsible for their own injury.

Furthermore, many victims do indeed make tentative efforts to speak of what was done to them, and they are usually shut down -- often by other church leaders who reinforce the web of silence that was begun by the perpetrator.

It is not "the silence of victims past that enable the victimization of others." Rather, it is the failure of church and denominational leaders to act upon the voices of victims past that enables the victimization of others.

This article by Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea offers some helpful insights into the nature of the psychological damage done to clergy abuse survivors.

Chris Wright said...

You are very right! My words were chosen with haste.
What I had meant to convey is that, by speaking out, Sarah (and others who have done the same) have, hopefully, ended a cycle of manipulation and abuse. The perpetrators of this abuse DEPEND on their victims to remain silence, and the manipulation is designed to encourage feelings of guilt, which foster silence. When people speak out, we can hope that victims will find inspiration and solace, and begin to understand that they themselves are victims--not guilty parties!
The priority of the victim will always be to first take care of his or herself. I am proud of Sarah for being able to do that, and for having come so far that she has found the strength to speak out about what has happened to her in an effort to protect others.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, Know that you have one person in the South praying for you. Bravo!

Frank Gantz said...

Christa, I appreciate what you are accomplishing on this site. I was a pastor who sinned sexually (not in a predatory fashion). I hurt many around me. Consequences were severe. I can't imagine where I would be if others around me tried to sweep things under the rug.

I'm glad your work is helping those who have been victimized. Keep it up.