Monday, June 7, 2010

Raped by God

People who experience prolonged, repeated sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence are often people who, as adults, have great difficulty with the “God-thing.”

Academic research has shown that this correlation is significant. Difficulty with God is a very common aspect of the damage that is caused by prolonged, repeated abuse.

It is a correlation that has been documented even when the perpetrator is someone other than a clergyman. When the perpetrator is in fact a clergyman -- i.e., someone for whom the link to God is direct in the child’s mind -- there is good reason to think the disruption in the person’s perception of God will be even more pronounced.

Experts are “generally agreed that the impact on survivors of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders is greater than survivors of other forms of power abuse.” (Patrick Carnes, The Betrayal Bond at p. 68) Why? Because the very resource that countless people use for coping with trauma -- their faith -- is a resource that has been dreadfully compromised for clergy abuse survivors.

Not only does clergy sex abuse inflict a dreadful wound, but it simultaneously yanks a primary resource for healing.

For all manner of life’s travails, many people ask the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They ponder it by calling upon their own internal spiritual resources, and in so doing, they often find the means to cope with whatever life has inflicted.

But the question becomes far more troubling when the “bad thing” is also supposed to be the resource for the answer. When faith is at the core of the “bad thing,” how should the person then turn to the “bad thing” as a resource for understanding and healing?

Another question people often ask in the face of trauma is “Where was God when it happened?”

But for many clergy abuse survivors, it never occurs to ask that near-universal question. We know where God was when it happened. We know exactly where He was.

Our bodies and our minds constantly and unwillingly remind of us of this. The very sense of God’s presence is neurologically networked with the nightmare of rape and molestation.

Such is the damage caused when a clergyman repeatedly molests a kid.

It is a type of damage so common as to be a normal consequence.

Yet, despite the normalcy of it, many church and denominational leaders still seem to think that, if only abuse survivors would put their faith in God, they could “overcome” this trauma.

But again… therein likes the difficulty for many clergy abuse survivors. How do you turn to God for help when God is your rapist?

Think that sounds blasphemous?

It’s how many clergy abuse survivors describe their experience.

“I feel as though I was raped by God,” they say. That’s the feeling they internalized as kids, and it stayed with them. And you can’t just wish it away.

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing blasphemous or shameful in the survivors who say this. They simply speak the truth of what was done to them and the natural consequence of it.

If there is shame, it should rightly rest on the shoulders of the many Baptist leaders who turn their backs on abuse survivors and who allow preacher-predators to church-hop for new prey.

If there is blasphemy, it comes from the mouths of the many Baptist leaders who claim that the word of God dictates denominational do-nothingess under the rubric of “local church autonomy.”

When religious leaders simplistically tell clergy abuse survivors to put their trust in God, they effectively ignore the very wound that was inflicted.

Clergymen cauterized our connection to faith, and then still more clergymen blame us for our lack of faith. . . . as though the blood that keeps spilling from the wound is our own fault. . . . as though if only we survivors were people of stronger faith, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Of course, we often blame ourselves as well. After all, if you’re a Baptist abuse survivor, you were likely raised as an evangelical, and perhaps also as a fundamentalist. The lessons of our childhoods remain in our heads. Weren’t we taught that we should find answers and direction in the word of God, and should find strength and solace in prayer?

Should. Should. Should. That was the gist of so many religious lessons from my younger years.

But in the context of healing from clergy sex abuse, all those “shoulds” are meaningless.

If someone hacked off your leg, no one would say to you that you should have enough faith to re-grow your leg.

By the same token, faith won’t automatically re-grow the faith of someone whose faith connection has been severed by clergy sex abuse. The wound is real.

If your leg were hacked off, no one would say to you that you should walk again through faith alone. The inability to walk is a natural consequence of the wound.

By the same token, no amount of saying you should have faith will alter reality for one whose faith has been severed by clergy sex abuse. The estrangement from faith is a natural consequence of the wound.

If your leg were hacked off, you might eventually learn to walk again with a prosthesis. You might even run again. Or maybe you’ll roll in a chair. But one thing for sure, if you keep trying to walk in the old way, you will keep falling. You must find a new way to maneuver, and it will be very different.

I think the process may be analogous for those whose faith has severed by clergy sex abuse. We must start where we are with accepting the reality of the wound for what it is. We must accept that the old way is gone. And we must stop blaming ourselves -- or letting anyone else blame us -- for what is the natural consequence of the wound itself.

We are not lesser people merely because our faith is lesser. And it is irrelevant whether it is “lesser” by others’ ignorant standards or by our own preset standards.

If we are to move forward – whether through faith, non-faith, semi-faith, or lesser faith -- we must find new ways, and the new ways will be very different from the old ways.


Anonymous said...

"Think that sounds blasphemous?

It’s how many clergy abuse survivors describe their experience.

“I feel as though I was raped by God,” they say. That’s the feeling they internalized as kids, and it stayed with them. And you can’t just wish it away."

Christa, This is why it is so important for believers to declare the perps are frauds and instruments of Satan. And for those in that church to rally around the victim and beg forgiveness for not recognizing a fake and protecting them. The congregation MUST take on the burden of blame for the victim's sake.

The problem with Christianity today is that it is so shallow and basically a business enterprise without the laws governing a real business.

We have a shallow unrepentent forgiveness for Christian leaders who rape (they are NOT Christians but professing) but blame for the victim.

The perp should be in jail and the congregation should make sure that happens. If this happened more and more, there would be less perps because they know they would never get by with it. They know they would bring down the wrath of many members.

It is up to us to educate people and even shame them for leading little ones astray. They do not take the millstone seriously.

We must also work in our states to get the laws changed to make it a crime for churches not to report accusations of molestation.

If the Christians won't be Christian then we must work with the civil authorities who care about kids.

Until then, We must get the word out that churches are not safe places for kids or teens.

Christa Brown said...

"This is why it is so important for believers to declare the perps are frauds and... to rally around the victim...."

Yes, I agree, but as you probably realize, this very rarely happens in the real-world of Baptist churches. I think so much greater harm is done by the failure of the REST of the faith community to come to the aid of clergy abuse victims. Over and over and over again, we see Baptist churches (Baptist churches of ALL types) that effectively stand with the accused perpetrator, refuse any system of accountability, and inflict infinitely greater hurt and harm on the victims.

vjack said...

As bad as the abuse itself is, don't forget that the problem is compounded when churches refuse to hold the perpetrators accountable, or actually conceal the crimes as in the case of the Catholic church.

Christa Brown said...

"The problem is compounded when churches refuse to hold the perpetrators accountable, or actually conceal the crimes as in the case of the Catholic church."

Oh yes. Absolutely. I believe this compounds the problem infinitely. And this happens also in Baptist churches . . . all the time. The difference is that the Catholics keep records on priests. It's part of their religion under Catholic canon law. And their own records have come back to bite them. Meanwhile, Baptists don't even bother with record-keeping on Baptist clergy. It makes Baptists even better at the cover-ups because there's nothing to come back to bite them. In Baptistland, it's "no records - no trace - no trouble."

Sam said...

I agree strongly with Anonymous (and by extension, of course, with Christa's original post). It's impossible, it seems to me, for victims to escape the since that God ordained their rape when the entire church works overtime to defend the rapist/abuser, all the while professing faith in God while exhibiting behavior no Satanist would condone. This is not limited to sexual abuse; so many times, bad behavior in the pulpit is quickly forgiven without any consequence attaching to the misdeeds, even if they're criminal in nature. Until the church is willing to hold pastors, elders, deacons, etc. truly accountable, we can sadly expect victims to feel violated even by God. I would advise parents of children in churches to be especially on their guard when their kids are in church or at church functions, and it pains me to say that.