Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Truth and Light

“He only fondled the girls. It’s not like he raped them.”

“He was too young to know what he was doing. In his mind, it probably wasn’t much worse than stealing a cookie.”

“He only touched their breasts. It could have been worse.”

“He repented and was forgiven, so his slate has been wiped clean. I would have no problem asking him to babysit my own children.”

“They were just ‘playing doctor.’ A lot of kids do that.”

“Those girls aren’t really victims if they were asleep when it happened.”

These represent just a few of the more shocking comments I’ve seen in the wake of last week’s news about the Duggar family. The comments are bad enough by themselves, but what makes them worse is that they all came from Christians. And not just the ones who are members of those weird little sects. A couple of those comments came from a preacher in a mainstream denomination.

I have a couple of theories about why so many people of faith have been quick to defend the way the Duggar situation has been handled. First, Christians tend to be very supportive and defensive of their own people. Every time a movie like Fireproof or God’s Not Dead comes out, Christians flock to see it because we need to support Christians in the film industry, right? Christians tune into shows like Duck Dynasty (and buy up all that ridiculous merchandise) because they are Christians and we need to support them, right?

So when something pretty horrible comes to light about a Christian in the national spotlight—someone who has been held up as part of an example of how Christian families should be—some Christians will rush to his defense. “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “we all sin/make mistakes” will get thrown around as though one Bible verse or not-completely-thought-out sentence will provide a quick resolution to an extremely complex situation.

I definitely think this unhealthy, unwavering loyalty is at play here. But my fear is that something much worse is going on. From many of the responses/reactions I’ve seen to the Duggar reports over the past few days, I think many people in religious communities are horribly ignorant and naïve about sexual abuse.

Students at Bob Jones University were told not to report rape/sexual abuse because it might “damage the body of Christ.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, a denomination with churches on five continents, allegedly failed to report sexual abuse allegations from decades ago. A pastor of a Maryland church knew the youth leader had molested three young boys, but never reported it. These are just a few examples of many, many horrific incidents of abuse that happened in religious settings. Google “sexual abuse in churches.” The stories are never-ending.

The Catholic church has been making headlines about sexual abuse cover-ups for years, but it’s everywhere. And it’s clear that many church leaders either don’t know how to handle these situations, or choose not to handle them correctly. It’s also clear that when it comes to sexual abuse, many people of faith just don’t get it. They don’t get that while “forgiveness” sounds nice, telling a victim they have to forgive can only worsen the damage. They don’t get the depth of the trauma. They don’t get that repentance will not guarantee the perpetrator will never do it again. They don’t get that the verses about judging and casting stones come across as thinly veiled attempts to guilt someone into silence. And that silence is exactly what an abuser needs to keep abusing and keep getting away with it.

Organizations such as GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) are already working to turn this tide of ignorance and irreversible harm, but more needs to be done:

- I believe all clergy members should be mandatory reporters. This would mean that if any clergy member knows or suspects any kind of abuse (not just sexual) is going on, they would be required by law to report it to authorities.

- I believe people who work with minors in all churches, temples, mosques and other religious entities should undergo abuse awareness training on a regular basis. My husband is a youth and family minister, so yes, this would mean both of us, as well as all of our Bible class teachers and parent volunteers.

- On a more personal level, we have got to stop passionately defending abusers and badly-handled situations whether the people involved share our own faith systems or not.

One comment I have read on the Duggar situation is that we should not speak out on these kinds of situations because “we should not enter a battle that is not ours.” But when 93 percent of sex offenders describe themselves as religious* (meaning they are likely involved in a faith community somewhere), and when studies have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims and younger victims**, this is a battle that belongs to all of us. Sexual abuse is the kind of criminal activity that thrives in silence and darkness, and faith communities should be repositories of truth and light.

*The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study
** “Startling Statistics: Child sexual abuse and what the church can begin doing about it

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Old Friend Dave

My first memory of Dave Letterman is from the summer before 6th grade. Instead of going to bed right after Johnny Carson, I kept watching. This goofy-looking guy was telling jokes and just being silly. He was funny. Johnny Carson was funny, too, but this new guy was funny in a different way. He was funny in a way that I had not seen funny before. I kept watching.

At least in the summer and during holidays. Back when Dave’s show was Late Night on NBC, he didn’t come on until 11:30 p.m. And for a long time, his show aired only on Monday-Thursday. So I didn’t get to watch him on school nights. But when summer came, I tuned in almost every night.

The ’80s were Dave’s glory days. Not that he hasn’t been funny since then, but back then, his humor was wackier and edgier. Those were the days of the Velcro wall, guacamole-filled balloons being dropped off ten-story buildings, and Thursday night Viewer Mail. There were Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Larry “Bud” Melman, prank calls to the Russian Embassy (smack in the middle of the Cold War, for heaven’s sake) and the squeaky Sky-Cam. During his 5th anniversary special in 1987, Dave unveiled a dog farm during a “new products” segment. It was built like a giant ant farm and real, live dogs sat in it, panting and staring out at the audience. For his Tri-State Special, a quirky tribute to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Dave borrowed a hydraulic press and took requests of what he should crush in it. My favorite was the hot dog wieners and a huge can of Pork ‘n’ Beans. I taped that show and I still have it on a deteriorating VHS.

Much of my time as an adolescent was not fun. Nothing spectacularly tragic happened; my parents didn’t get divorced, and I was never a child abuse victim. But there were some dark, dark days that never seemed to end. If I could get to a TV at 11:30, though, Dave always, always made me laugh. Many of those nights, Dave’s antics weren’t just entertainment for me. They were a means of survival.

Although I did get to go to New York City in 9th grade, I didn’t get to go to Dave’s show. Late Night tickets were very hard to come by during Dave’s heyday, so my friends and I settled for Phil Donahue instead. But Dave taped in the same building, and I did pick up a “Late Night with David Letterman” sweatshirt in the gift shop. I still have it.

I was in college when Dave moved to the Late Show on CBS (which moved him up an hour to 10:30 p.m.), and I kept watching as he sent 15 people dressed as Superman into a small, Manhattan Starbucks, and a guy in a bear suit into the Russian Tea Room. When I was turning 30 and Chad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I asked for a TV for our bedroom “…so I could go to bed with David Letterman.” I got my TV, and Chad and I spent several more years ending many of our days laughing at Dave.

There’s always something disconcerting about the funny famous people we have grown up with leaving the public eye. We come to rely on these people to keep us grounded so we don’t get so lost and overwhelmed by everything that is not funny about this world.

In recent years, I have prioritized sleep over late-night laughs. If I watch Dave now, it’s usually the next day online while I get ready for work. But I’ll stay up and watch his last show tonight. I’ve been a David Letterman fan most of my life, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be weird, and that it’s OK to find something hysterical that no one else gets. Most importantly, I’ve learned that sometimes the best—and most genuine—way to minister to someone is to crack a joke and make them smile. So I’ll stay up tonight and say goodbye. I at least owe him that.

Here's the hydraulic press clip. Also, enjoy John Mellencamp's performance after that.

And one last time, the Late Night Anthem.