A Violation of Faith
***Warning: possible Trigger for some readers***
So I woke up this morning super early, which is not something I normally do. I have been out from work this week due to having flu like symptoms. Because I work in a very small office, if one of us is sick, it is going to be inevitable that we all will get sick. This flu and cold season has been brutal on our staff and we all have had at least one illness and are fighting off round two, and in some cases, round three. I ran a fever for six days straight, so my boss told me not to come in for the rest of the week. So….I have a lot of time on my hands. I have put the time to fairly good use, for the most part. I have recently discovered that Neil Gaiman is almost neck and neck with Terry Pratchett as my favorite writer at the moment. I just finished American Gods and Smoke and Mirrors, and am about a third of the way through Neverwhere. I also am rediscovering one of my favorite satirists, Dave Barry. I have read most of his stuff at least once, but it has been a long time since I have read a book of his. So I am trying to make good use of my down time.
Ryan has decided to try freelance writing as a way to make a living. If it is going too slowly, he can always do contract work in IT. He is working on setting a routine and sticking with it, for starters now. So far, he is doing pretty well at it. I may try to do it part-time, but I am much more cautious in approaching it as a living. I have tried freelance writing, and did it for about twelve years. I never made any money, but I was writing for non-profits and was doing okay working in a family construction business. If I wanted money for anything, my husband gave me the checkbook and said, “have fun.” I was also super young and extremely naive. I never learned to manage my money properly for shit, and I have a mental illness where one of the symptoms is excessive compulsive spending and lack of an ability to manage money! Ryan is trying to get me to try this online money managing system, but every time I mention it to Peter he points out that I don’t have money to manage, I am so broke. Needless to say, being a week out of work stinks, but I would rather take a week than suffer for a month later. Peter is pretty understanding, lucky for me. I am taking this weekend to investigate what I might be able to do. I have always thought I might do well as a Life Coach. I do have a degree in Sociology with an emphasis on Criminal Justice, with a minor in Psychology, as well as a degree in Criminal Justice. I also have a blog where I talk about my own life, as well as co-host a podcast about “an eclectic mix of topics.” I also have always wanted to do something in publishing, maybe act as a reader or a copywriter. Unfortunately, I don’t have copywriter experience, other than I have assisted in creating procedural manuals for a lending company during the height of the housing crisis. My best option may be to try to get on staff somewhere, maybe as a blogger or an article contributor. That means building up my writing resume, and deciding who to submit it to, and what I want to write about. The most pressing topic that seems to be strangling my brain at the moment is the victimization of women who have endured sexual harassment and/or sexual assault.
The term “sexual impropriety” comes up a lot in the media these days. There is no real definition about what this means, but in my mind, if a woman says she was a victim of sexual impropriety, she has the right to be believed, listened to, and validated, no matter who her alleged perpetrator is. And the alleged perpetrator is just that—alleged, until proved otherwise. And that is something I am sort of on the fence about, because with my experience and my education in criminal justice, the sociology of deviant behavior, criminology, and all the rest of it, I know what the law says. On the other hand, I also know what it is like to be a victim with no voice, and no where to put my pain. The good news is that I didn’t stay a victim. I became an advocate for others who have felt silenced and alone, and I have been in a position where I can assist them in moving from “victim” to “survivor”–with a voice, and the courage to use it. I have also worked with sex offenders in the criminal justice system, and I can see the other side of the coin. That’s the side that isn’t very popular at the moment—the side where I feel compassion and empathy for someone who wants to reform themselves through community corrections and something called restorative justice. Restorative justice only works if both parties are willing to come together somewhere on common ground to begin the healing process for both the survivor and the perpetrator. The survivor needs to be willing to hear what the perpetrator has to say, and the perpetrator has to be willing to humble themselves and admit what they did to others. It is often difficult to know if the perpetrator is being honest, or if they are succeeding in master manipulation, as many of sex offenders (criminals) are guilty of. It is so easy in the state of Colorado to get labeled as a ‘sex offender’–and often times they are assumed to be perpetrators of a violent act, but it is not always so. That is why I want to stress “alleged” as a verb, not a noun. The following is an example of this, and why it makes me so mad that organized religion often fucks up the faith of its followers, because it is ran by people. And people… well, people are only human.
I was wide awake very early this morning. I also was in a lot of pain, so I got up and took a couple of my fibromyalgia pain pills and laid back down for a bit. I know I have been entirely too sedentary the last few….well, months. I have been dealing with post traumatic stress, as well as bi-polar depression, and I have been going through some grieving garbage that I will save for another time. My immune system isn’t what it used to be, so it isn’t surprising that I have been down for the count in October (with bronchitis and walking pneumonia), November (with a cold), December (a stomach bug), and now in January I have the flu. I have noticed that my physical condition is often tied in with my emotional state, so that doesn’t surprise me much, either. I am feeling better than I have in a week, but this morning my fibro flared up, and that usually happens more when I haven’t been moving enough than any other time. I am hoping this weekend to go to an exercise class I have been wanting to go to for a while now. I may try to go for a walk around the lake by Peter’s tomorrow if the weather is good enough. So since I was wide awake, I decided to read the news. And I got triggered by something I was not prepared to be triggered by: a news story about a pastor in Tennessee, of all things.
So this pastor, we’ll call him Pastor D for “Douche bag,” apparently made this announcement to his congregation concerning a “sexual incident” that occurred between him and a 17-year old girl almost 20 years ago. He apologized, saying he was “deeply sorry,” and the congregation gave him a standing ovation! Now my first thought was “what a bunch of sheep.” This was followed by the rest of the story, which pissed me right the fuck off. (Warning: I am about to launch into a rant that many people might find “offensive”–but you can stop reading here, or hear me out and let me finish my thoughts in a safe environment.) The reason why it pissed me off was because of how the aftermath of the situation was handled by church leadership. Apparently, the teenager in question, who is now in her late 30s, wrote a piece for a website for sexual assault survivors about what had transpired. She forwarded the piece to Pastor D via email, which he received on Saturday. He made his “apology” (more like “appalling excuse”) the next day. We’ll call her Jules, which is her first name. This is one of the rare times I will use a real name. I use it with the utmost respect to her as a victim in all of this. I think she’s owed that.
Jules said in the piece she wrote that when she was just 17, she was hanging out with some teenagers after her youth group, where Pastor D was serving as youth pastor. After everyone else had left, Pastor D offered to give Jules a ride home. She accepted. However, he drove right past the turn off to her house. She asked where they were going and he said something along the lines of “you’ll see” or “it’s a surprise.” In her naivete, she “assumed we were going for ice cream.” He pointed out a piece of land where there were plans to build a new church. Then he pulled off on the side of the deserted road and turned off the engine. He next exposed himself and requested oral sex. She says she was scared and intimidated, but she did it any way. He asked her to take off her shirt, which she did, and he began fondling her breasts. Then he stopped suddenly, got out of the truck and ran to her side of the car. He then fell to his knees and begged Jules not to tell anyone, begging her to “take this to your grave.” She agreed, only to get him to take her home. She was hurt and angry, because she had assumed that he loved her, and now 20 years later, Jules suffers from nightmares stemming from this incident, and clearly is suffering from PTSD. (It takes one to know one.) She contends that this was more than a “sexual incident,” it was sexual battery. And she went to the pastor over Pastor D and told him about it at the time it occurred. His first question was “so what you are saying is that you participated?” Jules lost her nerve, and began to regret telling anyone. That pastor told her not to speak to Pastor D or anyone else about what had happened while he “looked into” the incident. Jules waited for a few months, watching Pastor D go about his church duties with nothing being said or done about what had happened to her. He even led a workshop on sexual abstinence, which was the last straw for her. She broke her silence with a bible study group, and the rumors began. Shortly after that, the church threw Pastor D a going away party. All he said was that he had “made a poor choice,” and it was time for him to leave the church. He ended up at the church he is pastor of now shortly after that. He says he disclosed the “incident” to the hiring board before he came to that church. The church, to their credit, has released a statement saying that Pastor D is on administrative leave and this is being investigated. The head of the board went on to say that they take Jules’ story very seriously, regardless of how long ago that it happened. If it happened the way she says, that is indeed a case of sexual battery.
What annoys me, and no doubt is frustrating Jules to no end, is not how it is being handled now, but how it was not handled 20 years ago. There was a very marked cover up, and Pastor D was simply shuffled off to another congregation. This is very common among Christian churches all over the country, of every denomination. (Catholics have had similar issues with priests accused of molesting children.) Instead of dealing with the issue, they simply minimize it and hide behind the doctrine of forgiveness. And the victim is re-victimized time and time again because now, it is she who is the “bad” one for not being forgiving. Fuck that. Fuck that. Let me say one more time FUCK THAT! That is such bullshit. It’s no better than the likes of Kevin Spacey “hiding behind the rainbow flag,” as Wanda Sykes has put it. THIS is what is wrong with organized religion. People. Ignorant, stupid people who have been taught to act like defenseless, mindless fucking sheep. To follow their spiritual leaders blindly, like they, and only they, can hear the voice of God, and therefore they are to be obeyed at all costs. It’s bullshit. My father was a Pentecostal minister and he told me once to “not be a sheep and to use the brain” God had given me to figure out my beliefs. He also told me I could always question him as my minister, and just “because it came from the pulpit doesn’t always make it true.” He encouraged me to figure it out for myself. I have always done that since my divorce. And let’s examine the double standard of what happened when I went to my church leadership for help when I knew I was going to leave my husband. I was told to “pray more,” and that “my faith was weak.” You know what? Fuck my “weak faith.” My faith didn’t fail me. My spiritual leaders failed me. (It was revealed later that the youth pastor’s wife was having an affair, the pastor’s wife was having an affair, and several other leadership people where involved in infidelity. That’s why they didn’t want to help me…their own secrets might be exposed. Fuck them. There is a special place in hell for those who do this shit to others who come to them for help. Karma is a biblical concept.)
I have been triggered by this, because I know of at least 5 or 6 sexual scandals that have occurred in different churches I have been affiliated with over the years, and it is ALWAYS handled badly. Maybe there is no “right” way to deal with this kind of thing. But I know one thing: I have witnessed plenty of examples of the “wrong” way: blame the victim, and re-victimize her by insisting she forgive her perpetrator, who is often times unrepentant. He is only saying what is expected, not what he feels. I have yet to see a pastor involved in a “sexual incident” ever really come to justice. He (and I know sometimes it is SHE) is a master manipulator, and hides behind the doctrine of forgiveness, not the doctrine of repenting—earning his victim’s forgiveness instead of demanding it. The really unfortunate thing is that the victim is almost always robbed of their faith in the process. It is not just their bodies and minds that are violated, it is their very soul. Their faith is violated, and sometimes they never recover from that. It took me a long long time to stop blaming God for what happened to me, and just accept that it happened. People hurt people. People are the problem, not God. People are human, and humans are imperfect. Knowing this is one thing, finding a way to make peace with it is something else entirely. I hope that Jules, and others like her, find whatever way works for them to make peace with their faith being damaged right along with the rest of them. They can heal, with time, and they can rebuild their faith the same way. In most cases, their faith is redefined through a situation like Jules went through. I know that was the case with me.
I don’t know about Jules, but I will never be a part of organized religion again. Even what it means to me to be a Christian has been redefined. If I do attend church again on a regular basis, it will be a Unity or Unitarian Universalist congregation. (Unity is a little more “new age”–but the basic idea is similar to UU. It is like Unity is UU lite. That is super simplified, but you get the idea.) I will go occasionally to a Catholic church with Peter’s mom, because I do think that the ceremony of the Catholic faith is very beautiful. I don’t believe like Catholics, but I can get along with them. It is more important to me to focus in on what we have in common than what divides us. I saw something on Instagram a while ago: “A Jew, A Christian, A Muslim and an Atheist meet for coffee. And they laugh, and talk and focus on their similarities because they are not douche bags.” I totally get that. That’s the kind of believer (pick your belief) that I want to be. Even though her faith has been violated, I hope Jules finds the strength to hold on to it, and blame Pastor D and the persons responsible for covering up what he did to her, and she finds a way to repair her faith in not only God, but in herself and in humankind. Because ultimately, no matter what other people do or don’t do about this issue, that is how one heals from the pain.
After twenty years of being tortured by her faith being violated, I hope for her sake, that she finds a way to nurture it back into some sort of peace. And I hope, also for her sake, that Pastor D’s current church board takes a serious look at this and does the right thing—whatever that is—to give justice to Jules. And, I hope she can learn to forgive the people who let her down throughout this whole experience, because that is truly how she can move on. I know what I am talking about through bitter experience.