Do you remember?

I am old enough to remember when words like homosexuality, divorce, and pornography would never have been mentioned in any church/faith community.  To believe that they were not spoken because these things did not exist is an exercise in institutionalized denial.  They do exist.  They have always existed.  They might be more pervasive and prevalent today.  Or maybe they aren’t.  Those ideas can be debated from many angles.  One thing that does seem certain though is that pornography is now the world’s most profitable and largest industry, largely due television, movies, and the Internet.  These three words have become so much a part of today’s culture that our faith communities have needed to break through some of their denial in order to best serve their congregations.  To whatever degree this denial has been broken through one thing seems to be quite powerfully true.  We Christians generally no longer seem to react so negatively to the words themselves being spoken in our presence.  We have learned some things about God’s ways of loving.  I remember when my former pastor Peter Wilkes was befriending the head of the homosexual community in San Jose, CA.  He would come back to church and weep with how hateful other Christians who attended the city counsel meetings with him behaved toward the homosexual community.  He challenged us as to what kind of example of Christ’s love this communicated to the world.  He was right. In fact, if we look at the life of Christ, it seems His most critical words were for the ‘rightous’ and his greatest mercy for those such as prostitutes. 

When I was first hired on as an intern therapist at a Christian counseling center I was nearly fired and definitely ostracised by a few people there because I was divorced.  This no longer seems to be true of this organization.  We now have books, workbooks and groups to help men and families with pornography.  Many churches/faith communities have divorce recovery groups.  I have even heard great sermons on abortion. 

We can change.  That is the good news.  In many respects, the word samples I mentioned above have historically had what I call the pseudo power taken out of them.  They elicited negative emotional reactions that need not have been there.  No one with any of these problems is a worse sinner than anyone with pride or who lies occasionally.  No one who has had one of these problems in their family is tainted in some way.  No word has any power unless we give it some.  As another one of my former pastors (they are former because they moved on the from the church) Keith Zafren used to often say, “There isn’t anything that cannot be talked about.”  He is the one who did the great abortion sermons.  He never elicited shame, just exposed the scars of men and women who had suffered. The fact that our faith communities have changed in their emotional responses to the aforementioned words gives me great hope.  Why?

We have a few other words we need to learn to take the power out of .  These include such words as rape, incest, molestation, gang rape, institutionalized rape, sexual violence, and a few others.  To keep the pseudo emotional power in our reactions to these words is attach a lie to them.  They are only words.  Should we be outraged at how prevalent these things are in our culture?  You bet.  Should our hearts break with compassion for those who been their victims?  You bet.  So, if we gave a school-grade to how well we are doing with the first few words I mentioned, we might be getting a range of A’s-C’s.  With words related to sexual violence most us are getting D’s-F’s.  I would love to hear of some faith community exceptions.  Whenever we choose to “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil” when it concerns avoiding truth, it IS evil.  The words around these evils are only words.  The survivors are people. 

The price being paid by the ignorance and lack of leadership in our faith communities  in the area of sexual violence is taking a toll possibly beyond measuring.  Some of it’s costs are depression, suicide, anxiety, addictions, and divorce

Since we can change, I propose we do.  We can begin by opening this subject up to discourse.  Let everyone give their opinion, debate it, challenge it.  Just by doing that we begin to start being “for” survivors instead of “against them.” Not only might we help our own church families, but maybe someone else might see us an inviting community. 

“Celebrate God all day, every day, I mean revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you are on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!”  ( Philippians 4, The Message)  And just maybe, He wants to show up in us.

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