This post happened last week (trigger warning for policing how people heal from abuse.) Dianna Anderson has a good response regarding healing and recovery. From that angle, her post is a must-read. I want to approach Richard Clark’s post from a different perspective.
I absolutely agree with Dianna that it’s wrong to tell people how they should heal–what form that should take or what the time frame must be. Doing the work of a survivor is good and important work, and some might even call it holy. Clark doesn’t really have any business policing that. But there’s something else that he’s missing, and I think it’s related to tone-policing.
First, one of his biggest mistakes is assuming that the people who are (as he calls it) “hate-watching” and/or “mocking” the church are Christians–or religious at all, for that matter. Quoting Scripture and talking about when and how Jesus used mockery are irrelevant to people who don’t believe the Bible to be a sacred text. Just because someone used to be part of a church doesn’t mean that person was ever a Christian, is one now, or ever will be one. There are many possibilities there, none of which Clark bothers to acknowledge. Telling people outside the church how they should write, speak, or behave and putting it in Christian terms is like trying to apply U.S. federal laws to Canada.
Second, Clark fails to see that this isn’t like someone getting bad service in a restaurant and venting about it afterward. It’s not just a casual visit to a church, deciding it wasn’t a good fit, and looking elsewhere. We’re talking about long-term abusive teachings and behaviors, many of which were perpetrated on underage people for years. Damage done in childhood takes a lot to overcome, and it’s pretty disturbing how many people have had similar experiences at the hands of pastors and teachers within the church.
Third, there’s more at stake here than individual people’s recovery. This is about the ways in which the church has, as an institution, continued to wound people deeply. If you see a house on fire or someone committing a crime or a person in need of immediate medical attention, don’t you have an obligation to at minimum call emergency services? That’s what so many of us have been doing in our own ways–we’ve been writing, teaching, and speaking about this problem and working actively in our day-to-day lives to help end the abuses at the hands of religious leaders and institutions.
Richard Clark and others don’t appear to be heeding our words. At least, when they write about “hate-watching,” it’s a little hard to tell that they’ve heard us. We don’t want just to vent about the abuses at Mars Hill or John Piper’s teachings or Westboro Baptist’s protests or tweets about children being deeply broken. We’re not using the Internet as an electronic therapist. We don’t merely want to be heard and acknowledged. We want it to stop.
I’m exhausted from those within the institution telling me I’m doing it wrong or I’m “hurting my cause” or I’m “hate-watching,” because we’ve tried every possible way to say the same things and not one of them has ended these abuses. We’ve tried the quiet polite way; the humorous way; the angry, ranty way; the sarcastic mocking way; the pleading way. We’ve written, shouted, set it to music, and created artwork about it. We’ve asked for those directly hurt to be heard and we’ve asked for the allies to be heard. And yet it continues. What the hell else do you want us to do?
I’m tired of hearing about how we’re all just seeing oppression everywhere (and implying it doesn’t really exist), even in the face of solid evidence that it does. The primary problem isn’t the score-keeping of who is more oppressed or whether sometimes the same person who holds privilege in one situation lacks it in another. For example, I’ve lately seen statistics floating about on the percentage of college-educated women and women’s earning power. That’s great, but it doesn’t erase institutionalized sexism–particularly within the church. It certainly doesn’t give anyone a free pass to ignore misogyny when they see it. The problem isn’t whether a given church has made a commitment to battling oppression but that church as an institution still perpetuates it.
I’m weary of being told that people/churches are imperfect, because that’s just an excuse for ignoring those who have been hurt. Of course churches are imperfect and people are imperfect. But why shouldn’t people and churches work toward being better? Why should any form of bullying, abuse, or oppression be allowed to continue? We have a responsibility to tell people that these abuses are occurring, and the church as an institution has a responsibility to put an end to the damage.
When these well-known pastors stop hurting people with their teaching; when the church begins to care more about children living in poverty than about the “pre-born”; when more money is spent on those in need than on our buildings and programs; when helping the sick, hungry, and homeless becomes a priority; when justice for victims trumps policing what women put on their bodies; and when all the institutionalized oppression ends, we will surely have no more need to use our words to express our outrage. Until then, we will use any method we can to get people’s attention.
Richard Clark, you’re trying to fix the wrong problem. Stop hate-watching those of us who criticize the church and help us do something to end these abuses.