On the intersection of sexual assault and Christianity
(originally published on Medium.com)
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever humans endure suffering and humilation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented. (Elie Wiesel)
Where is your God now, he sneered in my ear as he got off of me. I was 13 years old and had just been gang-raped. I had no answer. I was a Bible quizzer, had entire portions of scripture memorized, had been born and raised in the church, attended Youth group on Wednesdays and Sunday school on Sundays. But my God, the God I was raised on, wasn’t there.
The God I was raised on was the God of Abraham and Moses. The God who provided a child in old age, the one who parted the Red Sea was the God I grew up on: the one who was faithful to those who loved him. Clearly, I didn’t love him as much as I thought. Maybe I didn’t pray enough, read my Bible enough, sing the songs loud enough. Maybe if I had loved God a little bit harder, this wouldn’t have happened.
I realize now that at thirteen, I had fallen victim to some of the toxic theology “taught” by the church. I use that term loosely because it’s not explicitly stated; rather, it’s implicitly implied by what is preached on.
We don’t like to talk about it. It’s one of those topics that still make society uncomfortable. It’s one of those topics that make the church reel back in horror. Oh no, we don’t talk about that here. We gloss over those stories in the Bible because they don’t fit the image of God we have created in our minds, the image we’re trying to convey: all-loving, all-powerful, in control of everything.
Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba, Lot’s Daughters. So many others whose stories I don’t know, whose lives were affected by sexual violence in the book we read from every Sunday, dedicate our lives to studying.
But we don’t talk about it. We keep it hush-hush. Nobody can know because it will ruin your image as a “perfect” Christian–our image as the perfect family.
When I started talking about my story, I was told by some people in my church to stop. “People will think you’re looking for attention; just pretend to be happy. Pray more, and God will get you through it. He will not give you more than you can bear. He was there with you the entire time.”
Through it? I had already survived it.
He will not give you more than you can bear. What a line of crap.
He was there with me the entire time? For some reason, that doesn’t make me feel any better.
Those were the lines I was given by leaders in the church to placate the questions I had. Questions, twelve years later, I’m still trying to work through.
A few years ago, the church I grew up in had a #MeToo service. It was beautiful. A recognition that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their life (not to mention the 1 in 71 men). Lately, I’ve been left wanting more, wondering if that was enough.
There have been so many credible accusations brought against powerful men–men in the Church and men outside–but the Church as a whole has largely remained silent. Why can’t we speak up, speak out? Why don’t we?
Do we remain silent because it’s difficult to reconcile our idea of an all-loving God with such an evil event? Do we remain silent in the face of injustice because our God will work things out in the end? Do we remain silent because our faith isn’t strong enough to handle the mess? Do we remain silent because we’re not sure how to respond, what to say?
Sometimes the best way to say something is by doing something. By being a place of healing and hope, by being a place where the tough questions can be asked and where simple answers aren’t given.
Sometimes the best way to respond is by being a sanctuary for the broken and the hurting rather than a museum for the perfect. Sometimes it’s about acknowledging the brokenness and destruction in the Bible, while still talking about the redemption that comes from it. From Bathsheba came Jesus, perhaps the greatest redemption story of all time.
Where is your God now? He doesn’t exist. Not in the way I was raised to believe.
For a long time, I struggled with the idea of there being a loving God who can control all things. It’s hard to reconcile that God with the God of my trauma. I found God in my trauma, in being raped, in getting pregnant and then miscarrying at 13. I found God in my suicide attempts and my battles with self-harm and Anorexia. But the God I found was different than the God I knew growing up. He’s not so much an all-loving, all-powerful God, but a sympathetic God.
The weight of the doubting guilt I’ve carried with me for years has lead to a few suicide attempts, a lot of self-harm, and so many sleepless nights. I’ve come to learn over the past two years, through a lot of therapy and discussions with people a lot smarter than I, that faith does not preclude doubt. In fact, the opposite is true: doubt can make faith stronger.
I’ve come to learn that my trauma is not a result of something I’ve done, a punishment I deserve. Rather, it’s an act of free will, of evil. And if God could’ve stopped it, He would’ve. And that, to me, is a comforting fact. It’s easy to feel alone in our pain, alone in our trauma. Sometimes we forget that Jesus, too, felt pain. He cried. He cried out on the cross because He felt forsaken.
Sometimes, I think we all feel that way–alone in the storm. It’s nice to know that we’re not. I’ve come to learn that the God I need most is a sympathetic God: a God who can feel what I’m feeling, walk along beside me, hold my hand through it.
That’s the God I have now.