Abuse and Politics: How Christians Have Created an Abuser-Friendly Social Context — From Judith Herman
Ok, everyone needs to stop what they are doing and order a copy of this book that I keep quoting from. Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror [*Affiliate link]. This lady knows what she is talking about. So listen to her again:
It is not only the patients but also the investigators of post-traumatic conditions whose credibility is repeatedly challenged. Clinicians who listen too long and too carefully to traumatized patients often become suspect among their colleagues, as though contaminated by contact. Investigators who pursue the field too far beyond the bounds of conventional belief are often subjected to a kind of professional isolation. To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim and that joins victim and witness in a common alliance. For the individual victim, this social context is created by relationships with friends, lovers, and family. For the larger society, the social context is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered. The systematic study of psychological trauma therefore depends on the support of a political movement. Indeed, whether such study can be pursued or discussed in public is itself a political question.
The study of war trauma becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the sacrifice of young men in war. The study of trauma in sexual and domestic life becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the subordination of women and children. Advances in the field occur only when they are supported by a political movement powerful enough to legitimate an alliance between investigators and patients and to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial. In the absence of strong political movements for human rights, the active process of bearing witness inevitably gives way to the active process of forgetting. Repression, dissociation, and denial are phenomena of social as well as individual consciousness.
Judith Herman. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (p. 9). Kindle Edition.
Do you see what Herman is telling us? She is saying that the reason A Cry for Justice is having such difficulty being heard, and why we are often distanced and ostracized by our fellow Christians, the reason abuse victims are not being heard, is because we have created, in the conservative Bible-believing church, a social context that will not give voice to the disempowered. To be heard, we need the support of what Herman calls a “political movement.” A groundswell. No one heard the early women’s rights voices until a feminist movement began. No one heard the early calls for civil rights until the civil rights movement gained a required momentum. Herman says “the study of trauma in sexual and domestic life becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the subordination of women and children.”
Can we see the implications of this? Christians have created an social context, an atmosphere in their churches, which is not open to hearing from the oppressed. And yet the Lord, in His Word, very clearly shows us what kind of context is to exist among us. It is to be a Good Samaritan context. It is to be a victim-friendly context. A place where the abuser is uncomfortable. It is to be a place where injustice is readily exposed and corrected.
And yet, believe me when I say this because I personally feel it all the time, abuse in the church (sexual, domestic, spiritual) is NOT a topic that is really open to discussion. DIVORCE for abuse is not open for discussion. Bring up these subjects and you can see it in their eyes and hear it in the change in their voice tone as they take a step back, or as a whole congregation goes silent. What drives such a climate that so strongly resists even examining such subjects? Why are we so afraid to hear that perhaps the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way round? Well, I just said it, didn’t I? Afraid. Fear. That silence, that change of voice, that distancing – it proceeds from fear.
How have we created, then, a fearful, unbiblical atmosphere which we are all breathing in our churches? Well, we have idolized marriage and family and made them gods over the living and true God. We have gone beyond the Scriptures and demonized all divorce. We have distorted headship and submission, forgiveness and reconciliation, and other vital biblical truths that are given us by Christ for His glory and our good. And we have enacted penalties for anyone who strays from the company line. We are like the North Koreans who, when asked, “what if your divine leader is wrong about something?” They were stupified. Their operating system didn’t even compute the possibility. It was like someone was saying, “is the color that flower, sour?” Huh? What did you say?
All of this needs to change. The body of Christ needs to repent and become user-friendly to the oppressed. A place where A Cry for Justice is welcomed and injustice is sent packing out the door. I am coming to the conclusion that this change is not going to happen primarily within local churches. It is going to have to happen in forums such as this blog where victims are linked together and a context in which justice, validation, and affirmation for victims is produced. The body of Christ is found wherever genuine Christians are gathered together, hearing and heeding God’s Word.