An Unholy Evil: Ignorance, Silence, and Abuse

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[Trigger warning: abuse apologism] I didn’t set out to become someone who blogs about abuse regularly. But in three years as a blogger, I’ve forged many friendships with people who have been marginalized and hurt by people in the church. The stories of survivors have wrecked me and enraged me and filled me what I think Paul might term a “holy and righteous anger.”

We live in a culture that demands victims of abuse must stay silent for the comfort of others, that tells them their hurt and anger is out of place, that privileges their abusers and demands that healing on a schedule.  Christianity, to me, must be about centering  the voices of the abused and marginalized: hearing, understanding, and magnifying them. It is within that airing of grievance, that anger at mistreatment, and the fight for justice that we find every element of Christian community and justice and love and mercy.

This isn’t about me; it’s about what Christian love means when it comes to listening to the abused. The first step in showing this love to is shut up and listen to what survivors of abuse have to say. The writing I’ve done about abuse has come out of a process of learning from survivors how to stand in solidarity with them as they demand to be heard, and amplify their words. We cannot love victims of abuse if we refuse to hear them. We cannot support them, understand how abuse and abusers work, or comprehend its effects without listening to those who have experienced it.

Tim Challies has apparently never opened his ears to the victims of the abused.  Tim Challies doesn’t appear to understand what abuse is.

Why else, then, would he produce this steaming pile of weaksauce?

According to what Challies wrote here, he believes it better to remain ignorant in cases of abuse, in order to let the alleged abusers and their victims work it out amongst themselves. It is destructive to Christian unity to challenge Christian brothers who are being accused of abuse, to speak out against their actions. No. Really. Read it (emphasis mine):

We, of all people, should be slow to put aside hope and belief. This means that I owe it to C.J. Mahaney, to SGM and to those who have levelled allegations to believe the best about them, to hope all things for them.

….

However, the majority of us are far on the outside with very little at stake. For this reason many of us simply do not need to have an opinion.

The farther we are from being stakeholders, the less the likelihood that we are equipped to helpfully evaluate the facts and that we can do anything helpful with the information we learn. The farther we are from being close to those involved, the greater the likelihood that we are drawn more to the scandal of it all than any noble purpose. Not all knowledge builds us up; not all knowledge helps us; not all knowledge helps us love God and love one another in deeper ways. The fact that today’s media allows us to have access to facts, does not necessarily give license to avail ourselves of them.

If it is true that I am called to love other Christians, that I am called to believe and hope all things, that I am far outside this situation, then I think I do well to learn less rather than more. I need to know only enough to understand that I don’t need to know anything more! For example, when the leaders of a church call a members’ meeting knowing that there may be someone there transcribing the meeting with a view to making it public, and when that church’s pastor specifically asks outsiders not to read the meeting’s proceedings, I, as an outside observer, do well to honor that request as a show of love and respect to a brother in Christ. When thousands of pages of documentation appear on web sites, I do not benefit from reading and studying every word.

For this reason I have deliberately avoided learning too much. I have had to question my motives, especially since I have repeatedly been on the receiving end of scathing criticism for not using my platform to speak out against Mahaney. I have chosen to read the news stories, to understand the basic facts, but conscience compels me to stop there. To do more may not be spiritually beneficial, it may not reflect good time management, and it may not be loving toward those who are involved.

I almost can’t write this. My hands are shaking and I keep reaching over to my water bottle, hoping that the icy liquid will cool the searing pain from the bile rising in my throat.

Challies is writing as though no one in his audience is privy to an abusive situation. As though Christians are merely outsiders to an anomaly. As though abusers don’t sit happily in the pulpits and in the congregations of churches across America. If your congregation is a decent sized cross section of America (as most are), there is an abuse victim in your audience, probably sitting next to their abuser, every Sunday. Challies’ assumption that one can simply be ignorant of abuse, that one can avoid getting their hands messy on the topic, is an exemplar of privilege run amok.

Sure, he’s talking about one specific case. But he’s also making declarative statements throughout his piece about what Christian actions in cases of abuse should be – and those instructions are horrifying. We should be careful to listen to both sides, we should withhold judgment, we should actively make efforts to learn no more.

Challies failed in his responsibility as a pastor and as a man of God the second he hit publish on that post. His instructions go far beyond the specifics of SGM (which has not, as Challies says, been “slow or hesitant to release information” but rather has actively sought to prevent any information from being disseminated and actively fought investigations). And in that action, he silences victims and gives bulwarks of support to their abusers.

You see, victims – especially victims in evangelical environments – are told that their allegations of abuse are private matters, that opening their mouths and saying that things are not okay is “divisive” and “against Christian unity.” It is no small matter for victims to bring forth accusations and to go to court against their abusers. It is no small feat for them to stand up for themselves and continue to speak.

Challies’ rhetoric would have those victims remain silent. And it would have their Christian brothers and sisters remain willfully ignorant. Challies here abandons victims of abuse the very second he proposes that we are enacting a Biblical model by remaining uncritical of an abusive church situation.

It is horrific. It is beyond the pale. And it is the farthest thing from “Christian” one could possibly be.

Jesus was an ally to the marginalized. Jesus did not hesitate to call out those abusers of men – brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs. If we are to model Jesus, ignorance and silence in the face of abuse is the last thing we should be doing.

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Photo by fotologic. Used under Creative Commons licenses.

For more responses to Challies, I recommend this post on Wine and Marble and this post by Rachel Held Evans.