How Should We Respond to Sexual Assault

Perhaps like many of you, I sat glued to my television and live stream on my computer as Christine Blasey Ford testified about an alleged sexual assault that took place while she was in high school. The accused person in the assault, Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, would testify later that day.

It was a moment that recalled the Anita Hill testimony in 1991 regarding then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. It was also a moment that brought up pain for those who have been the victims of sexual assault, their families, and others.

Personally, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Ford or Kavanaugh in that moment. I cannot relate to their pain, because I have not experienced that for myself. Yet, their testimony and the conversation regarding sexual assault – not just in the past week but, truly, in the last few years – has been on my mind. The question I keep thinking about is this: How does God call us to respond to these moments?

Statistics tell us that more that one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lives. The vast majority of these assaults, more than 60 percent, will never been reported to the authorities. Only a handful of the reported assaults, between 2-10 percent, are deemed to be falsely reported.

Those numbers tell us that we likely know someone, whether they have told us or not, who has been the victim of either a sexual assault or an attempted assault. This is something that is close to home for us all.

However, our primary response is often to politicize or demean the accusations. I know this from first-hand experience.

In 2006, I was a reporter for what was then known as the Pope Center for Higher Education Reform in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My role was to cover higher education issues and stories for a libertarian-leaning organization. During that time, the Duke Lacrosse case began to make national news. As a refresher, members of the Duke lacrosse team were accused of sexual assault, only to be exonerated after a lengthy political and judicial process. One of my editors wanted me to push hard on the story, because it was what people were talking about and it was in our backyard. There was a faint connection to higher education policy, even though we largely dealt with public institutions.

I felt uncomfortable with the story. It didn’t feel like it reached the standards of what our organization was about – discussing policy and classical liberal arts education. The editor won, and I found myself at Duke University covering protests related to the case. It was not a story I look back on fondly. I am left with the feeling that we covered the story simply to play “gotcha” journalism with Duke University during a time of deep confusion and anxiety. It was a bad situation.

That moment reminds me of other reactions to sexual assault allegations. We will often use “boys will be boys” language to dismiss allegations that we deem to be unfair or unnecessary. The language casts boys and men as sexually-focused individuals who cannot control their inner needs. At the same time, we will tell girls and women that “if you wouldn’t dress that way” nothing would happen to you. This language dismisses women as mere objects instead of God’s beloved. Neither response is what God calls us to be about, but these are often the reactions we see expressed in the moments after a sexual assault allegation is raised.

We can, and must, do better.

I believe God calls the church to do better in our care for people regarding sexual assault. The Great Commandment teaches us to love God and to love others as ourselves. Our love for others comes out of the commitment and unconditional love God shares with us. We are to love others and value people in the ways we would want to be treated. This is especially the case when it comes to hearing the pain from those who have dealt with sexual assault.

The church, and those who seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps, should be a safe place where we give a listening ear to victims of sexual assault. We should be a place where victims can express their pain and have a community of support who will listen to them, comfort them, and support them unconditionally. The church should be a place of love, and grace for victims of sexual assault.

As well, the church should and must be a place of grace and hope for those accused of sexual assault. We must be willing to offer the accused a chance to express their story, to offer repentance, and redemption. We are, after all, a grace-filled people who seek the resurrection’s hope of second chances for all people.

In all situations, though, we must be willing to pray for the victims, the accused, and their families. At the same time, we must do a better job expressing grace-filled sexual ethics that start at the basic desire of love, respect, and treating each other as we would want to be treated. We must take leadership in creating places of safety and grace, so that our communities will be a place where all people are treated and valued because of their sacred worth in God’s eyes.

This is an important time for our nation, but I believe it is also an important time in our witness of God’s love in these areas. May we share the kingdom ethics in treating others as we would want to be treated.

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What is a Service of Hope?

It started as an ordination project.

Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.

I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.

A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles. Continue reading

Reflections on Hope in Times of Fear

I’m a father. One of my desires for my son is to leave this world in a better place for him and children like him.

I wonder if I am doing a good job at that.

I don’t wonder about whether my son knows I love him, he knows; I don’t worry about whether my son knows I care for him, he knows; I don’t worry about whether he will have a quality of life much better than my own; he will. I wonder about other things.

I wonder if I am doing a good job of leaving the world in a better place for him, because there are times when I attend a conference meeting, know he is in school, and worry if this will be the day there will be a shooting there. It is irrational, and I know this, but I worry about this.

I wonder if I am doing a good job of leaving the world in a better place for him, because there are times when I have more fear inside of me about the state of our world than I do hope.texas-church-shooting

I’m a pastor and I’m admit that I fear the world we are giving our children. It is not a fear that forces me to lock my doors and hide, but a fear of the unknown. The fear of the what’s next and will it happen here can dominate my thoughts more than I care to admit. I recognize this within me, and I acknowledge my own weakness in leaving the world as a place of hope, peace, joy, and love for my son and children like him.

I recognize my own struggle with fear especially following the shooting in Texas and many others like it. Never did I imagine we would live in a world where mass shootings would be as common as they are today.

This pains and offends me. I remember being a college student at West Virginia University during the Columbine tragedy. I believed, then, we would never see anything like that again. We have seen it, sadly, too often and in such numbers that Columbine is no longer listed as among the worst shooting incidents in our nation’s history.

My heart breaks for the state of our nation, as both a pastor and a father, especially for the violence we see on a daily basis. My heart breaks, as both a pastor and a father, when I see our thirst for violence and video games that advertise to our children that they can be “snipers” and “assassins.” My heart breaks, as both a pastor and a father, when we resort to blaming instead of trying to find a way forward through the pain together.

Whether it is Texas, Las Vegas, or any other shooting incident, I think we are all concerned about the state of violence in our nation. I pray for a world that is less violent, but I also want to be safe and practical in how we respond to these moments.

I also want to maintain my promise to my son and children like him.  I want to leave this world in a better place than I found it, because I believe that is the nature of the Gospel’s call to be a light that shines for the world to see and experience (Matthew 5:14). This is a promise we all make, as followers of Christ, through our baptismal covenant.

So, how do we live out this call in times of fear?

I think of passages like 2 Timothy 1:7 in moments like these. Paul writes, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Our best hope in times of fear is to remember whose we are and who we are. We are people of love who are loved by God and called to share love with others. We don’t have to fear, because we know God is present and gives us the strength to resist evil in whatever forms it may come through the witness of grace and love.

When God’s people respond to fear with more fear we miss an opportunity to show the peace that comes through God’s care and love. Yes, we make sure we are wise and safe, but we do not allow fear to dominate our hearts, because our hope is found in the One whose promises are true and whose presence is always there.

In this time of fear, what if we recommit ourselves to a promise that we made to leave this world a better place than we found it? What if we took the time to invest more in our children? What if we reached out to people who are discouraged? What if we showed the world violence only begets more violence and love only produces more love?

What if we leave this world in a better place than we find it today?

Christmas Eve Message: Ordinary Day and Extraordinary Hope

It was just an ordinary day in the City of Bethlehem.

The population, in those days, was around 1,000 people. That is a little more than double the latest Census estimate for Salvisa. All of those 1,000 people and more were gathered in Bethlehem on that day. The people were under the authority of the Roman Empire, which had no problem throwing its weight around. On that particular day, the people under Rome’s authority were required to return to their hometown in order to be counted. This was an ordinary occurrence for the people in Bethlehem, because Rome made it a habit of doing things to reminded people of their authority and power.

It was also an ordinary day for those outside of Bethlehem. Residing around the hillsides outside of Bethlehem were a group of shepherds. The shepherds were doing their job. They were keeping watch of their sheep to make sure they stayed safe from intruders. Shepherds were not the most beloved group of people. Some tolerated them as those who performed a needed task in society, but the people had little use for them. Others viewed them as thieves, because they would do what was needed in order to survive even if it meant taking from others. On that day they were just trying to live and survive. Continue reading

Expect the Unexpected

A high school friend of mine, yesterday, made an interesting observation on Facebook about this time of year. She said she wanted a bumper sticker that proclaimed to fellow drivers how she survived shopping at Wal-Mart the Saturday before Christmas.

That is a bumper sticker we all want by this point in December. We have arrived at the moment in the Advent season where we start to echo the motto of “survive and advance.” Survive all the rushing around, the frustrated shoppers, the overcrowded parking lots, in order to advance to the celebration of Christmas morning. After a month of hustle and bustle we’re just ready for things to slow down and to move on to the celebrations.

To be honest, however, there might be some among us who might have a different view about at this time in December. You might not be thinking about simply surviving to Christmas morning or wishing for things to slow down. You are thinking about something else. You are just ready for Christmas to be over. Continue reading

A Hope That Never Fades

Today marks the beginning of the Advent season and the beginning of a new Christian year. For four weeks we will look ahead with anticipation to both the celebration of the birth of Christ and the Lord’s eventual return. It is a season of excitement, of busyness, and of magnificent colors and decorations. It is a season of hope.

That word, hope, is among the key words of Advent. It is one that we need today. Hope is something that seems to be absent in our lives and in our world this season. We approach this start to the Advent season wondering if hope exist today or may be felt in a world of tears, brokenness, and death. Continue reading

24 Hours of Jesus: Arrest and Betrayal

“Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.”

Have you ever heard of that saying? It is a classic idiom often passed along to youth and young adults to remind them to be cautious of their actions, especially once evening gives way to the early morning. The idiom is based on the belief that the later it gets the more likely we are to make bad choices of judgment and do things we may later regret. As well, the more likely we can find ourselves in challenging or difficult situations.

Not that I am ever guilty of making such poor choice of judgment late in the evening. I did, of course, attend West Virginia University, which is known as a quality institution that does not support things like couch burnings or late-night campus parties.

What we hope for with this saying is that it will reminded us all that our choices have consequences. Those of us who have uttered this saying to our children or those who we are in ministry with desire that it would lead someone to make sound decisions and wise judgments. Continue reading