Surviving the Church



In some ways, I feel sorry for those who now lead the Churches. They have inherited a mess and, whatever they say in public, I bet they use a few choice words about their predecessors in private. For most of church life, well-meaning amateurism left nothing more than badly-maintained buildings and a lack of detailed records. But it also left the door wide open to abusers and predators who wanted a safe place to prey on the vulnerable. A spirit of acceptance became a culture of impunity and left far too many victims and survivors in its wake.

Today, the Churches are beginning to acknowledge that past and its shameful legacy. New procedures are in place and we are all learning the language of 'safeguarding'. But have we really begun to deal with what has happened (and is still happening)?

Whilst it is true that much of the abuse is historical and the perpetrators are long gone, the effect of these acts continue to be a part of what makes the Church today. This legacy is embodied in the presence of large numbers of survivors who, despite the treatment they have received from the hierarchy in the aftermath of horrific abuse, continue to claim their place in the Body of Christ. All of us owe them a huge debt for being willing to remain and speak out.

I have been hugely privileged to be allowed to accompany survivors of abuse in their struggles for justice, dignity and respect from the institutional Churches. I have witnessed their determination, grace, patience and resilience as they have tried to make the case for change in culture and process. I have also seen the responses of the representatives of the institution which have, frankly, made me ashamed to wear a dog collar and be a public representative minister.

The Church is still struggling to accept that it has victimised the vulnerable. It wants to blame individuals or processes or former leaders for evil acts done on its watch - and often on its premises. But this goes wider and deeper than individual acts and speaks to how the Church sees itself and handles power and knowledge. In this transformation, the Church needs survivors to speak out and be heard. In St Paul's analogy, they are to be treated as honoured parts of the body. It often seems the opposite is the case, where survivors are still treated with suspicion and kept at a distance, quarantined from the rest of the Church for fear they might detonate an emotional bomb that takes the whole place down.

Survivors are exceptional people who don't have to be treated with kid gloves. They have shown their resilience in the face of awful treatment and disbelief. We need to re-earn trust and honour the place of those who remind us of our worst selves. Justice comes through right remembrance; transformation through repentance.

If the Church does not find a way through this crisis, then it will have lost the right to call itself the Body of Christ.

#churchabuse #survivors #victims #BodyofChrist

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