Accountability

Some recent comments from a Catholic archbishop in Spain made a bit of a splash earlier this week on the internet when he spoke in his homily about domestic violence and how women draw a macho reaction by rejecting their partner’s demands or by asking for a separation. You can read the story here or here.

In these modern times, when more attention than ever has been focused on women and their roles in society, domestic violence has been hauled out into the light and exposed for the widespread, insidious evil that it is. We can read more than ever before about the various forms of abuse and its short- and long-term effects. Articles abound which detail the ways in which abuse is often perpetuated in other forms long after a woman exits a violent relationship. There is plentiful research, much of which has been translated into layman’s terms, that demonstrates that not all abuse is physical and psychological damage from abusive relationships can last for years.

So that brings me back to church. As one who is actively dating other churches, I spend a serious amount time reading official statements and following various synod gatherings, especially from Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Episcopal churches. Back in November, a document was issued from the ELCA which specifically addressed gender-based violence. It contained a confession of individual and corporate sin in which the church admits to failing in the past to address such violence and for its role in not doing enough to counter bad theology which allowed for a misinterpretation of scripture in such a way as to promote patriarchal systems based on the view that women are ‘lower’ than men in creation. It went on to address the practicality which every congregation is likely to face at some point: having a woman and her abuser both as members of the congregation. In this situation, it was stressed that the safety of the victim is to be the greatest concern. Abusers, while they must be cared for, must also be held accountable not only to the victim but also to the community of faith. Congregations are strongly encouraged to have specific guidelines and plans of action to cope with such situations.

As a domestic violence survivor, I read it with great interest when it was issued but I didn’t do much of a real comparison with Catholic statements at the time. The comments this week from the Catholic archbishop touched a very raw nerve and so I decided to dig a little deeper. As I had written on this blog previously, the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome did not have much to say about domestic violence except as it explicitly related to women’s role as mother. As I scoured the internet now, I did manage to find a relatively new document from the U.S. Catholic bishops on domestic violence that was long on scripture and short on any real practical guidance. Accountability is mentioned only once as a bullet point with no specifics whatsoever.

When a woman finds herself under attack at home and seeks the help of the Church, the clergy especially have a responsibility to not only refer her to specialized counseling services but also to ensure that she has a safe haven within the community. Abusers can, and should, also be referred to specialized counseling but they must also be held accountable for their actions.

This leads me to ask the questions of my Catholic brothers: what does real Christian accountability look like? When do we need to move beyond pastoral care to exercise the pastoral authority we claim to have been given through apostolic succession?

Perhaps it means the messy work of assisting an abuser in transitioning to a new parish away from their victim.  Perhaps it means putting safeguards in place that allow a victim new to a parish to ensure that their abuser does not follow them. But for as long as accountability remains an undefined bullet point, victims will continue to suffer needlessly and for this the Catholic Church is accountable.
ELCA Foundational Document & Related Social Message

USCCB Statement When I Call For Help

The Pendulum Swing

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“I think if that was me, I would’ve been gone the first time somebody hit me. Once would’ve been enough.”

“Yeah, well, we all think we’re a lot more of a badass than we actually are and when we suddenly find ourselves in a situation we don’t know how to handle, we find out pretty quick that we’re not as bad as we thought we were.”

It’s a conversation I am so very tired of having and yet it’s one that has to happen. And every time it happens, I wonder how many more times I will have to say it. More often than I want to admit, I wonder if I’m really just wasting my time. But this is my everyday life.

That conversation would become yet another facet to a revealing Week of Guided Prayer. The unique thing about the week is that it’s a stay-at-home retreat. It’s a chance to take a time out of everyday life to pray and reflect and work with a spiritual director and yet stay home in the midst of all the normal stuff of life. This is awesome when you can’t completely walk away from all of life’s responsibilities for a week. But the flipside is that everyday life has a way of encroaching on the retreat, like getting pulled into a conversation you’ve had a thousand times already and really don’t want to have again. Ironically though, that’s precisely why I love the week. The constant pendulum swing between the sublime and the ridiculous is simply the rhythm of life and if I can’t learn to find God in that swing, I am so royally screwed.

I went into the week with an important question to consider: the question of dating church. I was offered the opportunity to teach religious education at my Catholic parish. One of my bigger pet peeves with the Catholic Church is the anemic religious education programs at most parishes. We don’t teach the kids anything of real catechetical substance but then as they grow into adults we expect them to follow all the Church teachings and traditions. Not only is the expectation is unrealistic and unfair, but some of the best that the Church has to offer is often left neglected in the shadows, forgotten by all but the clergy and a select few self-proclaimed church nerds. So here I was being given an opportunity to be a part of the solution. Saying yes seemed to make so much sense. But…

Yeah, there’s always a ‘But’.  Their religious education program is at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. Care to guess when my ELCA church, and pretty much every other Protestant church within 20 miles, holds services?  Yup, sometime between 9 and 10 on Sunday mornings.  In order to teach, I would have to give up dating other churches. My new Catholic parish is very conservative and, as my readers know by now, I am, well… very NOT conservative. My friend Frank likes to refer to me as The Free Spirit. Maybe this parish needs a breath of fresh air and maybe I could be that. But can I be that if I close the window that’s been opened for me? By the end of the week, in spite of all the encroachments of everyday life, I knew for certain the answer was no. By Friday night, I knew for certain that God has put me on a path for reasons all His own and, while I don’t get it, I will go where He’s leading. Dating church is decidedly part of that path.

Sunday night, as if in confirmation, I had one of my vivid watcher dreams. Somehow, being beyond time, I walked down the same city block over and over and over. I watched as the block shifted from one time period to another to another, with centuries passing by as rapidly as my own footsteps. As we reached modern times, my guide, a wise woman slightly older than myself, said to me, “He will be there. In every generation, He comes. Whether as an inerrant preacher or as a mendicant child, He comes. Your job is to recognize Him.”

I can’t recognize Him if I’m not looking. So I’m paying attention. And somewhere, in between the swings of the pendulum, in the midst of both the sublime and the ridiculous, He’s there.

When Doors Become Walls

 

 

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As a part of my class in American Music, I was required to attend a concert in the school chapel. I’ve wandered past the chapel a few times but had yet to actually set foot inside. Why? No big spiritual issues there. I have to be on the other side of campus for my classes. And…well… I could never quite figure out where the door was, even from four feet away in broad daylight.  Yeah, I know how weird that sounds but it’s the honest truth. It’s a beautiful building with floor-to-ceiling panels of glass and wood, but no obvious door.

Thursday night, I headed across campus. It was dark, cold and starting to mist as I walked towards the chapel for the concert. I could see others through the windows but still had no idea how to get inside. So as I walked, I slowed down, hoping some other more savvy soul would arrive ahead of me and demonstrate the means of entrance.  I saw a young man in a hoodie and jeans wander near the building and turn away. Cue the unsettling feeling of deja vu. I found myself walking through one of my most disturbing watcher dreams.  As I got close enough, someone finally went up to the wall and disappeared so I figured I had to be close to a door. It wasn’t until I was two feet away that it became obvious that what had appeared to be a solid wall was in fact a door. Modern architecture at its finest.

Triumphant, I found a seat in the vestibule where the concert was to be held. I snagged my usual back corner of the room where I feel somewhat safe and hidden. I settled in and listened as other students arrived. From the conversations going on around me, most of the students had no idea how to get into the building and, like me, had waited outside in the dark and the cold, watching for someone to show them how to get inside. I also heard another very common theme, one I’ve heard all semester in my classes and communal gathering spaces.

“I know I should have been in here by now but…”

“I keep thinking about coming but…”

“I feel so stupid for not coming but…”

“I used to go to church and I want to go back to but…”

And all of those sentences ended with the same words: I don’t know how.

The theme of the concert was anti-bullying with songs and testimony from members of the choir. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen by the end. A moment before the music started, the young man in the hoodie slipped inside. He kept his baseball cap pulled low and his hood pulled up over it. He slid into the last seat in the back corner opposite mine looking as if, given the opportunity, he would have liked to turn himself invisible. He was out the door at the end before the final notes had died away. I wondered if anyone even noticed him. He came in alone and he left alone.  It was then that I wondered why campus ministry hadn’t gone out of their way to make themselves visible, accessible and inviting.

How many more like him wandered close to the chapel and then drifted away, retreating into the darkness?  How many wander outside in the dark and cold, looking for a way in but see walls instead of doors?  How many are looking through the windows at those on the inside?  And how many on the inside mistake transparency for openness?

I don’t know how.

Other than children under a certain age, we can’t drag people kicking and screaming into church. Church leaders of all denominations see the fall off in attendance and a growing number of people, young and not-so-young, who are giving up on church. All we can do is show them there is a way in and trust that they will be drawn inside.

I don’t know how.

But if we  Christians truly want to be a beacon in this world, we must first acknowledge that people wander into our midst all the time and then wander back out into the darkness without ever being seen. And if they go back out into that darkness still feeling that they don’t know how, chances are, they won’t be back.  What’s more frightening is that that they may eventually give up trying to find a way in.

So long as doors remain walls and transparency remains a poor substitute for true openness, my awful watcher dream of the man in the hoodie banging on the church doors until his hands are broken and bloody continues to be a reality for many hurting people.

I don’t know how.

Showing people a way in is one thing.  Showing them how to be on the inside is another.

It can be done. I’ve seen it in my own dating church experience. I’ve spent some Sunday mornings at a small Evangelical Lutheran church and they go out of their way to eliminate I don’t know how.  As I walked up the sidewalk, the door opened for me.  A program with all of the responses, song numbers, readings along with the order of the entire service was placed in my hand. People intentionally go out of their way to introduce themselves. And throughout the entire service, the pastor announced the songs, the prayers and the pages on which they can be found. At Communion, the pastor and the ushers made a point of telling people that everyone is welcome at the table and instructions on how to receive were in that program they had handed me as I entered. Every service is conducted as if no one in the pews knows what comes next. I’m sure the regulars there know the Apostles Creed is in the back of the hymnal but as a newbie, it’s nice to hear it rather than fumbling awkwardly, trying to keep up. When the service is over, there is one way out and that is through the hands of the pastor herself.  She is easily one of the most gracious women I’ve ever met. While I still bail before coffee, I know if I stayed, I would be welcomed warmly. And I will stay eventually.  It just feels right to be in a place where anyone and everyone is welcome. Not just as a banner slogan, but in practice.