At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unspeakable Past, Untouched Future

If you paid attention to my earlier post on Boston, you may have gotten the idea I'm taking a backseat on the nailbiter of a week past from the Marathon onward. Suffice it to say the Boston police did a great job in nabbing the remaining suspect, and we join in their relief, as well as continued sadness for the families of all victims.

But I am going to allow the pundits and others take the lead on talking about Boston, because I have been thinking about a different side of violence. It's not the devastation wrought by terrorism, but that doesn't make it any less damaging, for the body or for the soul.

If you want to get off the blog now and skip today's post, I'll understand, because I'm talking about child sexual abuse and you may not like the tone. But April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and a pointed chat on this topic is long overdue.

I'm not talking about this as a survivor. No one sexually abused me during my childhood. For reasons of God's mercy, I have two great, loving parents who understood their covenant responsibilities. None of my relatives did, either. No one in my neighborhood or among my coaches or teachers attacked me, molested me, or tried anything else. And I'm pretty sure I'm not repressing anything; I have a darn good memory that borders on the photographic.

But sadly, others cannot count that blessing amongst their childhood laurels. The best statistics through adult retrospective studies bear out that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. Children fall victim to the predators that lurk amongst them. The overwhelming majority of these sex abusers are not faceless individuals; they are people the children know and trust and with whom they have (on the surface) good relationships. They are relatives, neighbors, teachers, coaches, mentors, and church leaders like priests and deacons.

I've read a good bit of material on sexual abuse and the survivors thereof. Dan Allender's The Wounded Heart is one of the best books on the topic. The Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica brought clergy sexual abuse into the open with their song "I'm Not Jesus" (music video above). I know a number of people who have shared their stories of abuse with me. Some have developed issues of sexual identity confusion; others have sought sexual intimacy through other means that may be less than appropriate; a number of them developed suicidal thoughts; nearly all battled with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness; in all of the ones I know, there can be a simmering anger that roils below the skin, erupting in the question, "Why me?", followed closely by the other question, "Where was God?"

And buttressing both of those queries is the ongoing angst: "Whom can I ever trust?"

That, along with sexual confusion and dysfunction, is the legacy of childhood sexual abuse: the erosion of trust in human relationships. While I believe it is unhealthy to put up a wall against others for the rest of one's life, I completely understand the sentiment. Why put yourself through the horror again when it's happened before?

This matter came front and center for me a couple of months ago. A number of years ago, I served as a pastor/church revitalizer for a small Presbyterian church in central North Carolina. Per our denominational guidelines, my ministry was overseen by the regional "church planting committee" (CPC). For our entire two years there, the director of said committee made my life a living hell. Long story short, he directed a hostile takeover that left my time there in tatters. He lied on the floor of a presbytery (the regional group of our churches) meeting, claiming the CPC had no funds to underwrite my severance--never mind that our son Joshua desperately needed our medical benefits for his medications. Never mind the CPC actually had half a million dollars to spare, so my severance was assured. But what distressed me was the lying and deception and that it never seemed to budge his pulse or his conscience. I always remember my wife (an exceptional judge of character) being very disturbed by his persona.

Two months ago I swept through various Internet sites and landed on one in the Charlotte area, wondering whatever became of my former (God bless him nonetheless, I thought) nemesis. I was not prepared for what I saw. His face. Mug shot. With 14 counts of inappropriate touching and indecent liberties with fourth-grade students from his teaching days. A litany of horror that rose to 110 counts two weeks later, and then to over two hundred counts (including one forcible sex offense) by mid-March. (By the way, his trial begins any day now.)

I remember sitting in front of my computer thinking, "He saw fit to think he did God a favor by cutting my ministry legs out from underneath me, lying incessantly, when this past rot was under the surface the whole time?"

And then I stopped. I had to pray about my attitude. Because it ultimately is not about my vindication or even the evil that emanates from this monster. It's about the children, the nine-and-ten year olds who are now a few years younger than myself, who have had to live with that horror, with that violation of trust, with the warpedness of life that comes with being a victim of those actions. All this through no fault of their own, though often their perpetrators (and sadly, others) will give them the opposite message.

Thank God for organizations like SNAP (for victims of clergy abuse), Sparks of Hope, Darkness to Light, and countless other groups that minister to the broken and educate the rest of us on how to come alongside the hurting and violated.

There is something wrong with this world when we turn our backs on those enduring or who have survived childhood sexual abuse. And yes, I don't discount that some people can fabricate stories to score a financial windfall in court, but are we to believe that's the state of play here? I read garbage from the comments section on this case in North Carolina, and people say "Oh come one, you know there won't be any DNA evidence of the abuse so you can't prove it."

People like that need a fistful of cement to the jaw and a good course on logical thinking. Of course there's no DNA evidence now! That's because molesters operate on a different level. You won't find DNA, a carbon footprint, or twenty-year evidentiary support anywhere on a kid-turned-adult; the imprint has been left on the soul.

If the man of whom I speak is guilty, I pray for full justice. Not because of what he did to our family (we've made our peace with it and moved on from ecclesiastical shenanigans of the good-old-boy network), but for what he would have done to dozens of children in years past. And I pray for all victims of sexual abuse. Wholeness and deliverance is difficult enough for all of us, but their trek is even more dicey. It will never come in its fullness in this lifetime. All we can hope for is bringing as much of God's shalom into the lives of the hurting as humanly possible.

The past for those--including any of you reading this post now--who are such victims is unspeakable and it breaks my heart. All I can hope is that you believe in the core of your spirit that your future is untouched. May you find the true healing that you desire and need. And may a multitude of willing, true friends come alongside you and shepherd you through days of darkness into warmth and light.

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