It's more than being complicit...

Obviously, sexual abuse is on everyone's mind right now because of Penn State.

If you've ever been close to a similar situation, you cannot help but notice all the parallels. And I have found myself wondering all week how certain people are reacting to this situation; people who have handled abuse the exact same way and claimed they did nothing wrong. Are they keeping their mouth shut as they watch this news coverage, self-consciously realizing they did the same thing? Are they hypocritically reacting in outrage, righteous indignation, and contempt over strangers who more vigorously protected perpetrators and the image of an institution rather than innocent children?

I just can't help but wonder this. If someone has kept the same silence and later claimed "no wrongdoing" - how do they react to this news in their hearts and in the privacy of their own homes? If they feel self-conscious of the hypocrisy, there is at least hope that they have a conscience. But if they can feel moral superiority and sincerely be appalled at the news coming out of Penn State while clinging to "no wrongdoing" on their part? What does that reveal of their heart? I am not writing this as a judgment of anyone. The Bible tells us that what comes out of a person reveals what is in the heart. I think we are supposed to pay attention to such things. And we are to examine our own hearts. The truth is, there is hypocrisy in all of us on some level. We just try not to look at it, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing as Christ followers. We cannot overcome something we deny exists.

Every time an image (or institution or perpetrator) is protected over and above the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual welfare of children, there are wrong values and priorities underlying those actions. I don't care if it's a church, a university, an organization or just a family. Any time what matters most is an image or a reputation or the preservation of a group, the values and priorities of HEARTS are wrong. And every time a child receives the message that their violation is of less significance than the repercussions of it becoming known, the shame of the abuse is put squarely on the hearts and minds and backs of the victims. And they carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It manifests differently in different victims. Sometimes the wound is obvious in life choices and troubled relationships. Sometimes the person may think they have no lasting effects, but their wounds manifest in physical illness, depression, addictions and eating disorders. There is no such thing as being unaffected.

Yes, I realize God can heal a person completely from the wounds of abuse. But just as we accept that there are consequences resulting from the sins we commit (even though we are forgiven), there are also consequences we suffer as a result of the sins that are committed against us. God will help us to overcome those consequences and He will use every experience for our good. But how many examples can you cite as evidence of God just removing all consequences of sin? It doesn't work that way. We all live with consequences of our own actions AND the actions of others every day of our lives. Some are benign and others are life-altering.

People who cover up abuse re-victimize the victimized. And in many cases, they inflict more emotional damage on the victim than the perpetrator. With the proper response to this crime, a child can recognize that a pedophile is a sick person and they - as victims - bear no shame. But when the reputation of the perpetrator (or the image of an organization) and the embarrassment of family members is the highest priority, the victim feels worthless and ashamed, as if THEY have done wrong and are an embarrassment. In addition to the wounds of the abuse, they feel responsible for what happens to others if the abuse becomes known. And they are made to feel like everyone else in the equation, including people's "reputations," have more value than they have. How in the world could we ever think such a person could come through the experience without shame and a loss of self-worth? How can we be surprised by the scars of abuse? And how can anyone who has ever participated in covering up abuse take a position of moral superiority to the "behavior" of a victim? I just don't get it.

Anyone who has participated in a coverup, or defended someone who has, should feel as appalled at their own actions as they are capable of feeling toward Joe Paterno and any person who protected Penn State rather than a kid being raped in a shower. It does not matter what level of abuse occurred. Coverups are self-preserving and do not protect the innocent. Coverups put the shame on the victim and facilitate repeated abuses of future victims. There is no difference in what has happened at Penn State and what has happened in the Catholic Church and what has happened in the churches I grew up in. And I think this would be an ideal time for some who have chosen the wrong position to repent and make the right choice. Tell a victim you are sorry you did not stand up for them. Validate their suffering. Demonstrate that you care, if you do.

If you chose to protect and preserve an organization, a system, a reputation, or an image above the protection and preservation of a child, a person, a family member, it is never too late to make it right. And it opens the path to healing.

Silence and time alone do not heal anything.

If we truly care about victims, we will stand with them and for them, regardless of what it costs us personally to do so.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

~ John Wooden


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