Well if there is one benefit that has come about from this “Age of Overexposure” that began with Oprah’s couches and has reached its high point with Dawkin’s grouches, it is this: Just like real estate, when the top end of the market goes up, it drags everything else up with it. That may mean unhappiness for new homeowners, but when it comes to overexposure it means that things that have not been exposed, but should have been, have now been exposed, whilst things that were underexposed which required closer examination, have been examined more closely. And that is a good outcome.
This benefit of overexposure struck home to me reading the sickening accounts of the debacle in the UK town of Rotherham, not six miles from where we once lived in Sheffield in South Yorkshire. In that town as many as 1400 young women and girls were systematically abused and groomed for the sex trade by gangs of Pakistani men. The authorities – both civil and jurisdictional – either ignored the issue because in the UK’s current climate they feared it being viewed as racially motivated, or they – in the case of the police – belittled and devalued these women, seeing them as the problem rather than the victim. Congratulations to The Independent newspaper on its coverage of this matter, an overview and opinion of which you can read here.
What happened? Did the police or the welfare agencies have a change of heart? Not on your nelly. They simply entered an age of critical exposure for which they were ill prepared, and were not expecting. Faced with investigators who would not let up, and just as importantly, a critical mass of victims that could no longer be ignored, the debacle in Rotherham had to come to light.
And it’s not just in Rotherham. We have Operation Yewtree in which British celebrities, buoyed in confidence by the sexual revolution of the 60s, went on a sexual assault spree, knowing full well that the Zeitgeist within places such as the BBC, and the growing importance of celebrity culture, would mean that authorities would look the other way. Jimmy Saville and our very own Rolf Harris have been swept up and away by this. As a Christian it is sobering to think that the dark frown of the culture at these men is nothing compared with the anger on the face of God when they face his judgement on the Last Day. And then of course, there are the institutions, not least the Catholic Church in which a long tradition of hiddenness is now coming to light. Priests shifted to other parishes to keep the peace; obfuscation and self-delusion in the face of an incredulous media so often the response.
And it’s not just sexual abuse. It’s been interesting to note that issues of spiritual abuse are now coming to the fore as never before, and that’s what I want to focus on for the moment. And not just in crazy little Waco style cults “over there” that end in mass shoot ups, but in large mainstream evangelical churches, in which pastors are the new celebrities, spiritual abuse issues are coming to the fore like never before. There has been no end of hand-wringing among evangelicals in recent years over this point. Two factors are important when it comes to spiritual abuse in a church setting being exposed on a large scale:
1. Critical Mass
I will never forget when my favourite cricket umpire of the late 80s early 90s, Steve Randell, was charged and convicted with sexual abuse dating back to his days as a teacher. He was the best Test umpire of his day, or if not the best, the most interesting and most quirky. Suddenly he was gone. Why? Because one girl who saw him on TV and had been sexually assaulted by him at school, reported during a school reunion to another girl about the fact, who confirmed that it had indeed happened to her also. The resulting snowball turned into an avalanche that swept Randall away.
Critical mass is vitally important in both sexual abuse and spiritual abuse coming to light. In the case of the latter, it is when a church gets so big that the number of those who feel they have been abused, reaches the tipping point, people start joining dots, and the snowball gathers pace. In small, cult-like sects there is generally not enough critical mass for this to occur, but in the age of overexposure, in which many celebrity pastors are not trying to hide in compounds in the hills, but are seeking as wide an audience as possible, critical mass plays an important role.
2. Social Media
Forget the therapy group to which you sneaked into and sat at the back in order to deal with abuse, and spiritual abuse in particular. Overexposure of almost everything, in fact the celebration of abuse – my abuse – by movie stars and singers etc, has resulted in a braver, new world of exposure. Facebook pages and websites are now public about spiritual abuse issues among churches. Blog posts are encouraging people to “write a comment below the line” and the comments are no longer anonymous. People are gathering the courage to go public, and as more and more do, they are increasingly more credible, hence more and more go public, etc etc. Once again the snowball.
The age of overexposure of our good selves has resulted in the age of exposure for our unhappy selves. And, I might add, not without good reason. I would not advocate some of the almost gleeful manner in which hurt people enjoy their hurters themselves being hurt, but there is a shadow of justice in it all. I say “shadow” because I believe that without a clear grasp of the gospel, many Christians who have been hurt will seek full justice in this age, and if it never comes, they will treat earthly justice as an idol and it will shape, form and warp them. Justice will come in full, but perhaps not now.
In my next post I am going to deal with some of the the similarities between spiritual abuse and sexual abuse. My wife, who is a clinical psychologist has made some interesting observations about the parallels through what she has read and experienced in her line of work. There are things to watch out for, and advice you may need to take on board should you feel you fit some of the categories I address.
As disheartening and discouraging as it can be, you’re right: it is good for these things to come to light. Leaders in the church above all should be ashamed and brought to justice over the assaults they’ve committed in a place that’s meant for familial love and trust.
Looking forward to hearing the rest of your thoughts on the subject.
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