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Friday 18 August 2017

How Not to Respond to a Rape Victim

Imagine you are a sixteen year old girl, you’re a bit wild and don’t mind taking risks because you like to have fun. Which means you are a pretty normal teenager. You’re interested in boys and the kind of boys you probably should date, you know the nice guys, the kind that can be dropped a million hints and still won’t ask you out, aren’t really approaching you. So, when an older guy you do find attractive approaches you, well you respond. Only it turns out he is a scumbag. After dating him for a while he decides that you are going to have sex with him and when you say no, because you are a Christian girl and you want to wait till marriage, he forces you into his bedroom violently, then forces you on his bed and rapes you. Now this is a true story a young woman shared with me recently. So what happened from here?

What you would hope had happened is that this young girl was able to go to her parents or her church, share what happened, and get the right kind of advice and help. Which would be along these lines: let’s collect every bit of evidence we have, call the police on the way to the hospital and do everything we can to protect you, and bring the violent mongrel to justice so that we can stop him from doing this again. This is what should have happened, or at least something like this.

Instead this young woman kept it all to herself for a number of days, even though she had a bruised face, because she was more afraid of how her family and her church would respond that she was of bearing this tragic burden herself. My brothers and sisters in the church, this should not be.

After a few days she finally shared with one family member what had happened? The response: ‘What were you wearing?’ This is the response, this! I was shocked when I heard that someone would actually say this. How could someone ever say this to someone they care about who has just been raped?

The advice she did get was to go speak to someone at her church? So how did that go? The response there was even less helpful. She was told those oh so wonderful words too many Christians have been told by another Christian who hasn’t got a clue: “Just pray about it.” She told this person, who was a significant female leader in the church, that she was forced into having sex. Instead of recognizing that here was a young girl who had been raped sitting in front of her who needed an adult to help her, this woman told her to pray about it! I know saying, “Pray about it” sounds really spiritual and pastoral and caring, but frankly more often than not this is Christian code for, “I don’t know what to do, or what to say, so I am going to just pass the football here.” Jesus never said just pray about it when someone has sinned against you, he never said that. He said take action (Matt 18). Sadly, this young woman took action and her church failed her.

You know what else she got from this Christian woman who was a leader in her church? Judgement, lots of judgement. In fact, she got judgement from almost every person she spoke to. Comments like well you shouldn’t have been dating him, to what were you wearing, through to unhelpful advice that showed a complete lack of care for her. Sadly, the unhelpful responses she received caused her to go even further down a bad path, which thankfully she didn’t stay on for too long.

So why did she get responses like this? Well when she was telling me this I asked her that exact question and what she said was pretty straight up: too much of the church sucks at talking about sex. I am not the first person to bring this up, many other wonderful leaders are seeking to address this. But the reason why I am writing this blog now is because this still hasn’t changed a whole lot, and it needs to. Why? Because the Church’s lack of ability to address this topic well all too often is leading to young people getting hurt and too many others making terrible decisions.

This young girl’s parents had never taught her about sex, her church which composed most of her free time never talked about it, except to say don’t do it. Indeed often when this topic came up at this church parents took off, running away with their kids to avoid those services and meetings. This is not how it should be. No matter how much we want to shelter our children, this world is going to come crashing down on them in one way or another eventually, and if you haven’t properly prepared them, but have just stuck your head in the sand hoping they’ll manage, well then its more than likely that something terrible is going to happen to your child in this arena. Even if you home school them and keep them away from every possible avenue of encountering sex, one day they will grow up and encounter the world without you. Though this young woman’s parents wanted to shelter her because they cared for he, what they actually did was fail her. Because her church was too afraid to offend people and talk about sex frankly, the church also failed her. It’s just that simple.

We can’t avoid the topic of sex, otherwise we are going to have more tragic stories like this young woman’s. If she had been educated on this issue properly then she may have never been in a situation where she had to navigate the sexual maze with nothing but her own intuition about what was safe and what wasn’t. If her church had spoken more frankly about sex then maybe she would not have got such terrible responses from the people she went to, all of which were in the church. I mean come on, how can anyone with a proper understanding on what the Bible teaches about sex and grace, ever think that it was right to judge her like this? How many other young women are too afraid to come forward and talk about how they have been abused because they fear being judged?

This is not how anyone should have ever responded to a young woman who has been raped, especially in the church. What she should have received instantly was compassion, because Christ would have us be compassionate to the downtrodden (Matt 9:36). She should have also received understanding, because she was the victim, not the perpetrator. She should have immediately known that the leadership in the church were going to act on her behalf, and help her take steps to get protection and justice. She should have known that they would do all that they could do to keep her safe from the mongrel who had harmed her. She should have also known that this church was going to do all it could to educate their young people how to navigate the world of sex, because it is real and they will encounter it one day. It is better for our children to encounter it armed with good information, rather than be thrown to the wolves to work it all out for themselves.

Let me finish this blog post with insight from the Proverbs. Look at what David taught to Solomon, and then Solomon in turn passed on to his children:

“5 My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
    turn your ear to my words of insight,
2 that you may maintain discretion
    and your lips may preserve knowledge.
3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life;
    her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.”
(Proverbs 5:1-6).

But when did he start teaching this to him? Well Solomon tells us:

“4 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
    pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
    so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
    still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,
    “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
    keep my commands, and you will live.”
(Proverbs 4:1-4).

David taught this to Solomon when he was still tender in his mother’s eyes. In other word’s at a tender young age. This is significant. The Bible teaches us to have difficult conversations about the nature of the world with our children from a young age. To prepare them, to help them be wise.

Let’s follow the wisdom of the Proverbs both in the Christian home and in the church to appropriately teach our children from a young age how to protect themselves and think safely about sex. They will encounter issues in this world, let’s make sure they are well armed to face them. Let’s also make sure they do not fear our judgement when either they stuff up or someone harms them. Like Jesus did in his day, we should respond to those who have been sexually exploited with grace and mercy, and help them find the refuge and help they need. 

Monday 10 July 2017

The Great Betrayal

We are seeing a lot of changes in our world today. When was the last time you wrote a letter? When was the last time you took a call on your home phone, or made one? Most likely the last time you used your home phone was to help find your mobile phone. Have you noticed how few young people there are on Facebook these days? That’s because they are on Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, Tinder or some other service that I haven’t heard of yet, because I’m over 30, and not a youth pastor anymore. Things are changing more and more, some things for the better, some for the worse.

One thing that has changed for the better is how connected we are to the rest of the world. We can know about riots at the G20 summit in Germany as soon as they have happened, or the target of the US President's latest tweet. Just as quickly as we can know what the score of NRL games were on the weekend, without even turning on the TV. We are uber-connected. But this connectedness has enabled us to be saturated by so many different messages in this world today. So many different causes, so many different noble fights and not so noble fights. It’s hard to know when to plug in and when to shut it all out. We can see how people are thinking, more and more, both at home and abroad, and there is one thing I am seeing more and more that I think is going to be devastating for the Church. I call it The Great Betrayal.

Before I explain it, let me say that I won’t be surprised if persecution eventually comes in state form, or some other form, to churches in the West, and even Australia. We have had it really good for a really long time, and Jesus told us to expect opposition. Mostly we have not been opposed in the West, but rather competed with, and not just by other religions, but by malls, TV, movies, and all kinds of fun and distracting things. This has made us a bit lukewarm, and complacent. It’s easy going most of the time for a Christian in Oz, and besides the occasional mocking or individual persecution at school, or in the work place, we have had it very good here. But I am not the first person to see that this is changing and this change could accelerate quickly to full blown persecution eventually, maybe even soon. I hope it doesn’t happen, but again, we were promised opposition by Jesus.  

But what I think a lot of believers haven’t seen coming, and maybe don’t expect as much is The Great Betrayal that is about to come, if persecution starts to heat up. You see I think that one of the main places from which Christians will be targeted and exposed, is by some of their very own brothers and sisters in the faith. I have already seen signs of this. Let me give some examples.

How many of you saw all the kerfuffle in the US over wedding cakes for same sex weddings? Many opinions were given from different perspectives. Some said, ‘let them eat cake!’ Other said, ‘No.’ But what concerned me was the number of ‘Christians’ who were delighted to see their brothers and sisters in the faith lose their business for taking a stand on marriage. These progressive Christians took an even more hard line stance, if you don’t play by the world's rules, you should be punished. They labelled their fellow believers as bigots for defending the historical Christian view of marriage and some even delighted in seeing the trouble this brought these believers. This should not be.  

Another example I saw was during the federal election last year. There were many Christians who believed that Manus Island, and Nauru, should be determining factors for Christians who voted. Now please don’t misunderstand me, I think our government must balance security and justice for the sojourner (refugee). This is a complicated issue. But I saw multiple, mostly young Christians say that they were going to happily vote for a particular political party, who had hard line stances that would restrict the freedoms of Christians, but shut down these facilities. Even though they knew this might lead to persecution for their brothers and sisters, they were ok with this. They were still willing to put this issue ahead of the potential safety of people they say they share faith in Christ with. 

Another example, which really disappointed me, was a discussion I saw on personal boundaries for male ministry leaders. I saw many, who would claim, and likely were genuine believers, condemn leaders who put into place boundaries which separated them from one on one private meetings with people of the opposite sex. Never mind that these leaders have well established reasons for such boundaries, still the men especially, were accused of being sexist, and disempowering of women, because in a male dominated profession like the pastorate these boundaries limit access for women. My issue wasn’t so much that some people disagreed with these boundaries; because personal boundaries are just that, personal. My issue was that instead of a discussion over what best enabled someone to remain holy in their conduct, men who practiced such boundaries were accused of simply sexualizing women and insulting men. It became about gender politics. It was mentioned that after all the world doesn’t follow such rules in business, and social interactions, and they make it work…can’t the church do the same (I would argue the world has caused itself a lot of trouble with a lack of boundaries).

All of these examples have a common thread, a disturbing thread. There are many believers out there who would more quickly ally with the causes of the world than fellow believers. Of course many think they are doing God’s work, and maybe I am the one who is wrong here on these issues, though I am willing to defend my positions. But what I am not wrong about is that there are massive divides in the church over social issues, and for many us, we see more and more of the church becoming like the world in how it thinks, and the issues it tackles. Since when did the Apostle’s mission line up with third wave feminism, or the modern identity politics movement? I really hope I am wrong, but as persecution heats up I think we are going to see more and more people who consider themselves parts of the church betray their brothers and sisters for the causes of the world. Or at least, be willing to sacrifice the livelihood and safety of their brothers and sisters in the faith for what they see as a cause of justice.

I call this The Great Betrayal, because I think many Christians don’t see it coming, but the signs are there and its effects will be great. Already many believers compromise on long held traditional beliefs like eternal hell, one man one woman marriage, and even the substitutionary atonement, among others, to stay in good with the world. I think many of these ‘believers’ are more than willing to sell out their more traditional brethren who hold these beliefs and others as non-negotiable. After all our views are considered more than controversial in today’s culture, in one instance an American politician just recently called traditional Christian views on hell dangerous.    

Again I hope I am wrong, but didn’t Jesus say: “34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

Perhaps Jesus meant this to apply to the household of faith, as well as the family? I hope I am wrong about this, but the signs don’t look good.