[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!