Woah guys. Sometimes the shit hits the fan. Like that time that I (Sarah Joslyn) broke the beautiful Bethany Suckrow’s website. Long story. It’s coming back. Promise.
I had joined a missions team at my evangelical university, and we planned to spend two weeks ministering to local youth in Dundrum, a little bayside town of Northern Ireland. The climbing-a-mountain thing was one of those spontaneous group activities that seemed like a fantastic idea until I was actually doing it. The mountain peak didn’t seem so, well, vertical, when I was admiring it from sea-level.
But suddenly there I was, fingers gripping rock with every last ounce of strength I had. I didn’t know if I could make it to the top without killing myself. I didn’t know if I could make it back down without killing myself. I had to decide which would be the more honorable death.
I usually tend to dwell on that euphoric moment when I reached the peak of Mount Donner with pride, but today I reflect on the in-between moment, when I was clinging to the side of the mountain and had a singular thought running through my head as I looked back down the steep incline of how far I had come:
“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”
In September 2008 I found myself embarking on a semester abroad alone. I was sitting on a flight I had just boarded by myself after tearfully saying goodbye to my fiance for the next three months. I had been anticipating this experience since high school, had been planning and saving for this particular trip for more than a year.
To this day, I still say that it was the best decision I ever made for myself, choosing to study abroad. It widened my worldview by thousands of miles and it helped me grow in a million important ways. My memories of that time are still so vivid – – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the memory of good meals and remarkable moments.
But I also remember that in-between moment, after I left and before I arrived, when the wheels went up and Chicago shrank to a spec outside my airplane window and I was all by myself. All of the anticipation I felt, all of my bravery and courage and motivation, felt like it had been sucked out of the plane. I could hardly breathe.
“Shit. It’s too late to turn back.”
There is this hard, messy part of every adventure that no one wants to talk about.
The part where you realize that you are very far away from home, and you’re really on your own. The part where your expectations meet reality. The part where it gets frustrating and expensive. The part where the plans you make collapse into one another like a stack of dominoes. The part where you have to tell yourself, “it’s too late to turn back now.” The part where you say a few swears because you’re scared.
I don’t think this feeling can accurately be called regret.
I don’t regret moving to Nashville.
Just like I didn’t regret climbing that mountain in Northern Ireland.
Just like I didn’t regret boarding that plane to Europe.
What I’m feeling is anxiety, and I know that this anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I made the wrong decision. I don’t necessarily want to be in the position I am now, broke and struggling to make things work, but I also don’t want to be anywhere else. I just want to move forward. I’m under no illusions that I would be any happier or more fulfilled if we had stayed in our rundown, overpriced, single-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.
In fact, I knew that it was entirely possible that there would come a point about six weeks into our new life here when money would get tight and plans might be out of sync and I might miss my support system back home. If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time trying to prepare yourself for every conceivable consequence before embarking on adventure, but in the end it doesn’t save you. The inevitable moment will still arrive when expectation meets reality and you have to keep going, no matter what. Even if you do feel like a chicken-shit.
And just like all the adventures before this one, there will come a day when I remember this with season with gratitude, pride, and fulfillment. And maybe even a little compassion for whatever in-between moment I find myself in then, too.
I am on a journey. It is a journey of faith, it is a journey of feminism, it is a journey into the Kingdom of God. Like every journey, it is both a walk away from something, and a walk toward something. It bears the tension between the now and the not yet. (Read more here.)
I’m so excited and honored to be included in this series. When we started dreaming and scheming this over a week ago, led by the fearless and badass Mihee Kim-Kort, Jes Kast-Keat, and Suzannah Paul, we could not have predicted just how positively people would engage it. I hope you’ll take the time to read and process the stories being shared there this week.
Today I’m over at SheLoves Magazine, sharing my first post with them. Starting next month I will be their Thursday editor (which I announced over on my Facebook page last month and I forgot to share here, oops.)
Those of you that frequent this space regularly (or at least when I manage to post!) know that this year I chose Thrive as my One Word for 2014, and that last month I announced that hubs and I are moving to Nashville (in 5 DAYS. But I’m not panicking or anything…!!!) My post for SheLoves today is a reflection on that decision to thrive in a new place. I hope you’ll read and leave a few thoughts of your own in the comments!
It started with a seed. A question: what if we moved?
It fell on hard ground the first time my husband asked it. It was winter, I was grieving the death of my mother. I felt frozen, numb, empty, barren. I couldn’t look around at my life and see anything for what it really was. I couldn’t know for sure whether the bare branches were hibernating or lifeless. So we waited, the possibility of what could be suspended somewhere in time.
Still, it was a small seed of hope, a tiny kernel of faith, that question. (Read more here.)
[TRIGGER WARNING: Intense abuse and rage apologia.]
People are always asking me why I engage social media the way that I do – posting links to articles and posts about issues of feminism, rape and purity culture, especially as they relate to faith. I’ve been accused of being combative and argumentative, of being ungracious and unloving. I’ve been told that publicly criticizing spiritual leaders and Christian organizations could prevent me from making the kinds of professional connections that will help me find work as a writer. But you know what?
I believe that each of us are called to critically engage our culture and community, especially when we see harmful narratives being perpetuated.
I believe that we are responsible for seeking and sharing truth in our own spheres of influence.
I believe that we are called to advocate for the abused and the oppressed with our education and our gifts.
I am a Christian and a writer; to stay silent on these issues is itself a clear message that I only care about my own voice and my own privilege. I am not okay with that. And I am done being quiet. After the conversation I had today, I am so beyond disgusted and upset that I have to post about this, though I can barely type without shaking.
This week Leadership Journal, an imprint of Christianity Today, published an article written by a convicted and imprisoned rapist in which he recounted his choice to groom and sexually abuse a minor. He was a youth pastor who developed a relationship with one of his students and then pursued her sexually for years before his wife discovered it and promptly outed and left him. The article, as it was originally written, never once uses the terms “groom,” “molest,” “abuse,” “rape,” or even “crime” to account for his actions, but instead uses “extramarital affair” and “relationship” and “friendship” and pronouns like “we” to describe his “fall into sin.” He lists the consequences of his actions only as they relate to him:
And yet he never once accounts for how his actions affected his victim, his wife, his ministry, his church, or his community. In fact, he doesn’t even acknowledge that she was a minor until page five of the article. It is a stark, horrifying display of abuse and rape apology, and it very clearly centers the voice of the abuser over that of the victim.
It begs the questions :
How can a rapist be repentant for his crimes if he cannot even call his sin what it is?
How can a rapist be repentant for his crimes if he cannot even acknowledge the pain he caused others?
Answers: HE CAN’T.
This post was not repentance; this was justification for his actions, and some critics have even gone so far as to say that this rapist is grooming readers for his return to the pulpit. I agree with them.
There has been an enormous backlash on social media this week, begging Leadership Journal and its parent company Christianity Today to #TakeDownThatPost. Until this afternoon, these pleas were met with flippant response from multiple LJ and CT editors, and blatant radio silence from the organizations’ official twitter accounts. This afternoon they posted an editor’s note “due to the backlash.” To put it bluntly, their action was way too little, way too late. It not only keeps the rapist’s voice centered, but their minor edits to the language he used makes the story in passive voice as Dianna Anderson explains, and totally ignores the harm already done.
I am outraged and horrified by Leadership Journal and Christianity Today’s ironic lack of leadership in this circumstance. They seem to be operating under the false impression that the ramifications of this post will be water under the bridge in due time as the angry twittersphere moves on to other outrages.
I beg to differ. Why? Because of conversations like this that I had today via twitter:
Brandon is a self-identified abuse victim and youth leader who himself admits that he does not understand that minors cannot give real, authentic consent when sexually propositioned by an adult authority figure.
He has tweeted with me and several other people today in direct response to the piece published by Leadership Journal, questioning whether the rapist was solely at fault for the abuse, whether the victim wanted it, and whether having sex with an adult authority figure would “really” ruin her life. This is the kind of real, tangible harm perpetuated by LJ’s article: it lets readers (i.e. “leaders” in LJ’s target audience) question what should be concrete concepts like consent and abuse. If they don’t know the difference between an “extramarital affair” and abuse of a minor, are they fit for leadership?
Why else does it matter? Because you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse. And when you remain silent on this issue, or when you let yourself believe that “maybe they wanted it,” you silence victims and make yourself an unsafe person. Silence on these issues actively perpetuates real harm by allowing abusers to think that their actions are justifiable, even normal.
The concept of consent is Healthy Sexual Ethics 101. And if even our leaders in our churches, leading our kids, do not understand this, then no wonder sexual abuse is a rampant problem and no wonder people are leaving the pews. No one feels safe.
Leadership Journal, Christianity Today,
What more proof do you need that this article perpetuates harmful narratives among people who do not understand consent and abuse? What more proof do you need that instead of a self-justifying “cautionary tale” written by the rapist himself, we need to be listening to the victims and teaching people about consent and rape culture? If you care about victims, if you care about Christian Leadership, TAKE DOWN THAT POST.
Readers, please join me and others in imploring Leadership Journal and Christianity Today to take down this post. Samantha Fields offers several ways that you can participate in changing this situation :
Please e-mail the editors of the Leadership Journal and ask them to remove the post (LJEditor@christianitytoday.com). Ask them to replace it with an article from the victim of a youth pastor, and then another from someone like Boz Tchividjian that offers church leadership an actual education in child sexual assault, clergy abuse, statutory rape, and how it is impossible for a pastor gain consent from a parishioner because of the power he or she has.
If you use twitter, tweet along with #TakeDownThatPost and at @CTmagazine and @Leadership_Jnl.
If you use facebook or other social media, please share one of the following articles :
My Innocence Was Stolen, at Redemption Pictures
Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, and #TakeDownThatPost, by Samantha Field
An Open Letter to Christianity Today, by Elizabeth Esther
Christianity Today Publishes a Rapist’s Story, by Libby Anne
Because it’s Time to Take Down That Post, by Tamara Rice
Why did a Journal for Christian Pastors Give a Platform to a Sexual Predator?, by Hännah Ettinger and Becca Rose
If you are like me and you are still trying to learn the basics of feminism, rape and purity culture, and how these issues intersect with the Christian faith, I highly recommend reading Dianna Anderson’s series Back to Basics. She dissects ideas and terms very thoroughly. Educate yourself!