Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for July, 2013

Thank You For Your Courage

“Thank you for your courage.” These were the first words my church leader said when I came to him with a complaint against my pastor. Several weeks later, the forensic psychologist leading the investigation said the same affirming words: “Thank you for your courage.”

These are the words that San Diegans should say to the women who have come forward with complaints against Mayor Bob Filner. Instead, I see people attacking the victims: demanding their names and the details of their abuse, accusing them of overreacting (though not once those details started coming out),  and blaming them and their supporters for harming the career of a great progressive leader.

I still remember the heart-racing, night-waking, gut-storm of terror I felt when I decided to report my pastor for sexual misconduct. Even when I understood that his actions had been an abuse of power, even when I came to fear for other women, I struggled for months before I made the decision to turn him in. It took even longer to build up the courage to make the call. I was terrified that my testimony could end a gifted preacher’s ministry, that my words could break the congregation’s heart; and that some of my friends could even turn against me. My overwhelming fears triggered a full-scale eating disorder, but as it turns out I wasn’t afraid enough. If I had known how bad it would get, I might never have come forward. And yet all I was risking was my place in my beloved church.

Filner’s alleged victims are risking far more. By accusing a powerful leader, these women risk their paychecks, their career paths, and their place in public life. They will be called (or perhaps have already been called) sluts, nuts, liars, and lackeys of the opposition. When the first victim’s name is made public and the TV crews set up in her front yard, her family will pay a price that none of us can begin to imagine.

If this scandal ends Bob Filner’s career, his supporters may grieve a great leader. All of us may grieve the harm to public discourse, the awful power of temptation, and the awful temptation of power. Grief may lead us into times of anger, but we can’t turn our anger on the victims. They have already suffered enough.

In Genesis, we read about the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Sexual assault carried enormous shame in ancient cultures, and often the shame landed on the victim. Dinah’s brothers placed it where it belonged: on the man who had raped their sister. The violence in the payback scene is extreme, but that’s how stories were told in those days. Seas parted on command; floods covered even the highest mountains; men lived hundreds of years; and Dinah’s brothers killed not only the rapist but every man in his city. Whether Dinah and her brothers are historical figures, the story is true a thousand million times. How many women were violated in ancient (and modern) days? How many men defended their families’ honor? And of those men, how many put the shame where it really belonged? Dinah’s brothers got it right — not just for their sister, but for all of us.

To Bob Filner’s unnamed accusers: no matter how this story ends, I will always look up to you as heroes. You are paying an enormous price to make the world safer for your sisters in public life. From the bottom of my heart, dear brave women: thank you for your courage.

The Truth Has Set Me Free

My new church walks in a big civic parade every summer. My former church marched in the same parade. When I was there, I loved this annual ritual. I was always proud that with nearly a hundred marchers, my church fielded the biggest contingent of all.

I left the church just before Christmas in 2009. In a final generous gesture to my pastor, I waited until after the holidays to file my complaint. By springtime, the investigation was over, his guilt had been swept under the carpet, and my ostracism was well underway. Still in treatment for anorexia and trauma, I entered my new church in a state of terror, but I was determined not to let my fears get in the way of my faith. As the weeks passed, I gained health, began sleeping better, and started feeling safer in church. When summer rolled around, I thought I was strong enough to risk being on the parade grounds again. I didn’t know how much protection I could expect from my new church — after all, they didn’t know my dark truth yet — but any protection was better than none.

So, on parade day in 2010, disguised with a big hat and sunglasses, I made my way to my new church’s assigned spot. With horror, I recognized the streamers, banners, and hundredfold forces of my old church, staged right next to us on the same short block. For two excruciating hours, I ducked a constant stream of the purple-shirted army. Rather than risk one more cruel encounter, I hid — no, literally cowered — on the curb between our two glittery convertibles. Those were two of the longest hours of my life. I had night terrors for weeks afterward.

Thankfully, for the next two years, the parade organizers staged us several blocks apart. But this year, once again, the two churches were staged on the same block. What a difference three years makes! Far from hiding, this time I strolled confidently past the mass of purple shirts. I was a stranger to most of them, but I did see a few familiar faces. Among them: three friends who had been dear to me. I smiled and greeted them warmly and they returned the welcome. I spent the next hour catching up with my old friends and introducing them to my new. In contrast to the terror of 2010, this was nothing less than a miracle.

Why am I so much stronger this year? Because I am known and loved for who I am: a friend, a helper, a gifted organizer and writer — and a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. In my new church, I have support even (or perhaps especially) from the people who know my story. I get strength from my women’s “Journeying Together” spiritual group, from my online writers’ clan, and from the small but growing community of fellow CSM survivors. I still think carefully before I share my story with someone new. But except for the backlash that drove me out of my former church, so far all I’ve had is blessings. And now with this blog, I’m sharing my story with the world.

When I decided to speak and write openly as a survivor, I only thought of helping future victims. Now, the blessing has come back to me. The truth has set me free.

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