Samaritan SafeChurch – Post-Election Landscape: Unsafe Churches?

December 5th, 2016 by admin

Post-Election Landscape: Unsafe Churches?

Blog Post #9:  December 5, 2016
Linda Crockett 2015by Linda Crockett, Director of Education & Consultation

Exquisitely sensitive to abuse of power and the silence that only protects the perpetrator, survivors have wisdom that the church, families and the larger community need to hear, even though it may be uncomfortable.

Our work with congregations on ending child sexual abuse is to create faith communities that move beyond the “check the box” mentality of policies, training and background checks and into the hard work of shifting congregational culture from silence and denial to proactive engagement in protecting children and empowering survivors.
One of the groups severely impacted by the presidential campaign with its unprecedented sexually explicit content was survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Survivors saw the same kind of dynamics they had experienced from their abusers manifest in full view in the national spotlight, including minimization of the harm done, assumption of the “right” to access a women’s body without her consent, belittling and mocking language about weight, intimate bodily function, and attractiveness (or lack thereof) and bullying behavior. Our November 11 Samaritan SafeChurch Blog “Election Impact on Survivors of Sexual Abuse”  described this in detail. It was the most widely shared blog SafeChurch has ever published.

We heard from survivors who voted for Clinton and others who could not vote for either candidate. Although I have not talked with any, I am sure there are some survivors who voted for Trump. And that may present one of the most painful and complicated dynamics of all, especially for survivors of incest who loved and admired the person who was so deeply violating and disrespecting them.

As messages continued to come in response to the blog, we decided to create a safe space for survivors of all political affiliations to gather in a community where they would be listened to, respected and most of all, understood. This is, of course, what a church community or family should feel like. But for many survivors we have talked to, these places feel less safe since the election. And some of them were not very safe to begin with.

The fifteen who gathered in our Post Election Impact Survivors Circle on November 29 at Highland Presbyterian Church reflected sentiments we have heard from many others over the last few weeks: The political had become deeply personal.

Flashbacks to long-ago rapes, intense feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness, body memories, and nightmares about perpetrators whose sins and crimes were “given a pass” by family, friends, church and community who did not seem to understand the devastation of the violation.

For many, the elevation of Donald Trump to president closely mirrored the dynamics of their family, church or community when they were molested, raped, or battered. Blaming the victim, minimizing the abuse, and holding up all the “good” qualities and work of the perpetrator is an all-too common response.

Given this, it is not surprising that many survivors no longer feel safe in churches where the majority of congregants are pleased with the election result. We heard despair as survivors described encounters with family or church members, including those who knew of the past abuse, who seem to dismiss the words, actions and behavior of the president elect around sexual aggression, and disparagement of the most vulnerable among us (which includes refugees, Muslims, the disabled and many others).

Just a few of the laments (paraphrased) we heard in the Circle were…

  • When I voted for (another candidate) I felt empowered, like my vote would cancel out that of my perpetrator’s. When I woke up the next morning and heard that Trump won, I realized that I can never cancel out the perpetrator’s power, no matter what I do.
  • I once again feel abandoned and betrayed by my church, and my family.
  • My young daughter is afraid, asking me, “Mommy, what is he going to do to gay people?” I don’t know what to tell her.
  • I feel surreal, like I lost my voice (again).
  • This (support of Donald Trump) takes me back to telling my story of abuse, and having people say, “It’s not such a big deal”. They defend him. Christmas is going to be so hard.
  • Maybe we need to start a new church – one where we can be safe. Mine no longer feels that way.

Even as we sat with so much pain, we concluded our Circle with conversation around hope, courage and resilience. Focusing on the inner circle of candles we lit earlier to symbolize the light we each carry, the light around us and between us, we agreed that we need to be in community with each other now more than ever. We acknowledged that despite all the trauma we have endured, we are still here, able to connect and to love. And that we have not become like our perpetrators is our best revenge.

Some survivors will remove themselves from toxic environments in order to heal; others are angry and ready to “go to the front lines” to protect other vulnerable people; and some want to find a way to help church and family members understand the deeply felt violation so many survivors are experiencing.

In closing, we went around the Circle with each person blessing the next one. In doing so, we embraced a model of equality, rather than the hierarchy assumed when a leader offers the blessing. A mix of religious and non-religious survivors, some gay, some straight, others fluid, older and younger, of different political affiliations, called each other by name and said, “You are light. You are hope. Go in peace”.

And so we will. We hope you will join us.

One Response to “Samaritan SafeChurch – Post-Election Landscape: Unsafe Churches?”

  1. December 07, 2016 at 2:21 pm, Lynn K. Miller said:

    Thank you for speaking this important truth in the face of unloving, destructive power. May God condemn the silence, and the silencing behavior.

    Reply

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