This week my friend Helen shared on Twitter that a church attended by her friend had chosen to pray for Rolf Harris in their Sunday service. They didn’t pray for the girls and women he sexually abused.
In June 2014 Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender, in prison, bemoaning how his offending had ruined his life (not the life of the girl he abused or his family or the congregation he pastored). They have since written a thorough apology for publishing the piece after enormous online outrage about it.
In May 2014, well known Christian author, speaker and teacher RT Kendall tweeted a photograph of himself and Oscar Pistorius smiling after having had lunch together. He urges his over 3000 followers to pray for Pistorius, who is currently on trial for murdering Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, whom he shot dead on Valentine’s Day 2013. No mention is made of praying for Ms Steenkamp’s family.
The church LOVES a redemption narrative. “We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God”. Isn’t that how it goes? And when those who have fallen far are redeemed, we all feel better, the world is better. It’s in those incredible stories of redemption, of bad made good that we can be confident that God is still moving.
Yet the girl sexually abused by the pastor writing from prison is still damaged. The women whose lives have been ruined by Rolf Harris are unlikely to recover from what he did coupled with years of his face, his songs, his power being all over child and adult media. Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.
The women and children and their family and friends, the victims of these powerful men are ignored. It doesn’t fit the redemption narrative if someone is struggling with the impact of someone else’s sin against them. They are encouraged to forgive, to pray for the abuser. If they don’t, then we can make them a sinner too. Then they fit the narrative. And they can ask for repentance for their lack of love and grace and we can all feel better that balance is restored.
Perhaps it is Disney’s fault? The need for a happily ever after. The capitalist consumerism which sees Jesus as a product to be sold to sinners, to fill their God shaped hole and meet their every wish upon a star. Supply and demand. We get the fairy tale ending where the beast becomes good, the princess is saved and the monsters (not the people) are slayed.
Yet real life is not a fairy tale. Cinderella is a domestic slave. Beauty is suffering Stockholm Syndrome. Little Red Riding Hood is an analogy about rape. Those who have suffered; abused and violated don’t fit the happy ever after.
How do we begin the devastating work of rebuilding shattered lives, when we’re so busy endorsing the quick fixing of abusers?
It turns out the redemption narrative has one massive gaping hole; an analysis of power.
Oscar Pistorius, Rolf Harris, the ex-pastor sex offender are all powerful men. Using their power and privilege to hurt others. They may weep in court or write about how sorry they are and their words and weeping may give off an illusion of weakness. But they are powerful and, very often, unrepentant.
Jesus did not give up all power as God Almighty to become a human baby, show us The Way, die an excruciating death and rise to life so that we can use Him to collude with, enable and perpetuate the damage done by abusive men. We cheapen all He has done by focussing our prayers on the perpetrators while ignoring the hurting, the damaged, the raped and the grieving.
As James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) We see again and again throughout Scripture the measure of God’s people is their value of the vulnerable, not of the powerful.
Let us stand with the hurting, the broken, the damaged. And work towards our community of faith becoming a safe and holy place for the abused and the hurting, for the powerless not the powerful.