Sophia Lee’s Column: ‘We Don’t Talk About That Stuff’

The following is from an excellent piece written by Sophia Lee of World Magazine in her column, “Sophia’s World.” The link to the original piece is here

‘We don’t talk about that stuff’

Dismissing or minimizing accusations of abuse in the church can tear families and communities apart

by Sophia Lee

I remember when I was a 9-year-old pastor/missionary’s kid growing up in Singapore, there was a man who always loitered around our church after Sunday service. My father’s church shared the same building with another church, and that man was a regular attender of that church’s morning service.

Being a pastor’s kid, I spent a lot of time waiting while my parents and other church members talked for hours about grown-up stuff, usually praying for world evangelism or something as eternally consequential. My younger brother and I befriended another pastor’s two kids who were also bored to death, and we would spend that time playing hopscotch, jumping rope, or buying snacks at the nearby shops. It wasn’t long before we bumped into that man.

I forget his real name, but we called him “Uncle.” Uncle was in his 40s, with a gangly frame, knobby knees, and wispy, balding hair. I still remember the day my brother and friends told me they met a friendly guy, and soon, Uncle was hanging out with us almost every Sunday afternoon.

At the time, I didn’t realize how weird it was that a middle-aged man would spend his Sunday afternoons with a bunch of prepubescent kids. I just liked that he bought snacks and cheap toys for us. But I didn’t like how he always wanted me to sit on his lap, and I didn’t like that whenever I refused, he then asked the other pastor’s daughter over. It bugged me that he only seemed to want the girls, that he never asked to cuddle with the boys.

I was too young to understand what’s going on, but even then I was acutely aware of this leaden, sickening feeling in my gut that I now recognize as shame and disgust. I was also confused: If this man is a bad man with unsavory intentions, why would he be in church? Why would the adults let him hang about? I had trusted him because he was a professed Christian and made verbal references to Jesus, but now he didn’t feel safe.

Then one day, when Uncle asked me to sit on his lap again, I decided I had enough. I jumped up and yelled, “No!” Then I stomped away, and I told the other kids that we will never, ever hang out with that man again. I never told my parents about Uncle because shame and disgust made me want to hide and forget everything, and I was relieved when my father’s church eventually moved to another location. We never saw that man again. Today as an adult, I look back and wonder if my intuition was right—and I thank God nothing serious ever happened.

It’s been a while since I’ve thought about this incident, but I’ve been experiencing that familiar uneasy, skin-crawling feeling again as I read today’s news about long-hushed sexual assaults on women and children, as I research domestic abuse cases in churches, as I meet various individuals who tell me childhood stories of experiencing rape and molestation, as I meet homeless women who tell me they lost everything after fleeing domestic abuse. But this time, it’s not just disgust I feel—it’s a slow-rising burn of anger against unaccounted injustice.

One 27-year-old woman I recently met told me she was raised in a very conservative evangelical family who spent a lot of time at church—and that’s where a fellow church member raped her when she was barely a teenager. She told the appropriate adults what had happened, but no one seemed to take action against her perpetrator. The knowledge that the church—a sacred community that’s supposed to be her safe refuge—overlooked this act of grievous wrong almost severed this woman’s relationship with God.

For the last few weeks I’ve been researching how churches handle claims of domestic abuse, and I spent hours talking to women who said their husbands abused them and their children. Several of the women I talked to said when they finally brought the issue up to their church leaders, hoping for safety and relief, they instead felt hurt, confused, and revictimized when their church didn’t seem to take their abuse claims seriously. All these women eventually left their churches, and one told me she still couldn’t enter church doors without having a panic attack.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says one in four women and one in seven men in the United States “have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” With those numbers, the problem is likely prevalent in churches. Biblical counselor Warren Lamb, a former abuse victim who has been counseling abusers and abuse victims for three decades, said he’s been “passionately banging on the walls, windows, and roofs of churches” to alert faith leaders that domestic oppression is real and destructive, and it’s going on inside their congregations’ households: “But we don’t talk about that stuff.” And from what I hear and read from several Christian abuse specialists, it’s not uncommon for church leaders to dismiss or minimize accusations of abuse.

Lamb said many churches don’t want to admit that someone in their congregation could be an abuser, that such evil could exist within their pews. It’s hard for people to believe that the smiling, generous church member or leader who serves so faithfully and prays such sincere prayers could be a master manipulator abusing his wife and children back home. These Christians might agree that wolves can creep into the sheep pen, but few want to believe it is true of their own church. They acknowledge the reality of sin but emphasize grace and redemption without fully fleshing out the necessity of soul-wrenching, self-undoing repentance.

To those churches, Lamb warns that whenever they let an abuser escape accountability for his sin, “It poisons the pond. It impacts everybody.” And that’s what I saw in many real-life stories: The evil of domestic abuse doesn’t just affect the couple involved—it breaks families, friends, and communities apart.

It disfigures the glorious image of earthly marriage as a metaphor of Christ’s union with the Church. It prepares the perfect breeding ground for the devil to wreck more havoc in the most important relationships within the Body of Christ, and it silences other victims who lose hope for justice and redemption.

There is evil in our churches. We are not immune to the devastating disease of sin, and each time a public scandal breaks out in one of our churches, it’s just the smoke pouring out of a whole underworld of various other hidden, hushed-up sins within the church body. No wonder God deals harshly with sin that invades His people, as demonstrated in Achan’s story in Joshua 7, or the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

Dealing with sin is ugly, messy, dirty work. Jesus Christ demonstrated His love for us by stepping into our ugly, dirty mess, and then He demonstrated how ugly and dirty sin is by dying in our place in the most brutal way imaginable. If that’s how God views and deals with sin, that’s how seriously we need to view sin as well, and we must reflect Christ’s love for His Body by doing the hard, hard work of fighting it.

Thank you, Sophia Lee!

Soli Deo Gloria

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Manipulation, Part 1 – Gaslighting

Overheard:

“That’s not what I said and not how I meant what I said!”

This piece on “Gaslighting” is the first in a series about the oppressive manipulations tactics many of the folks I counsel experience on a regular basis.

What we will discuss in this series happens in homes, churches, businesses, friendships – all kinds of environments where hurt people hurt other people.

I pray you will find it useful.

*********

Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic employing a specific kind of lying that people with certain character and personality defects use to create doubt in the minds of others.

The goal is togaslight make the target person doubt their own judgment and perceptions, and to create doubt in the minds of others about the believability of the targeted person.

Here’s where the term comes from, how it works, and what to be on the alert for.

In the classic suspense thriller, Gaslight (MGM, 1944), Paula (Ingrid Bergman) marries the villainous Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), not realizing that he is the one who murdered her aunt and is now searching for her missing jewels.

To cover up his treachery, he tries to persuade Paula that she is going mad, so he can search the attic for the jewels without her interference.

He plants missing objects on her person in order to make her believe that she has no recollection of reality.

He tries to isolate her, not allowing her to have visitors or to leave the house.

He tries to make her think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

If this sounds somehow familiar, you have probably encountered the form of psychological abuse known as “Gaslighting.”

Essentially, it describes methods of manipulation that are designed to make the victim lose their grip on the truth or doubt their perception of reality, in order to gain power and control over them.

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective – like someone stealing something that belongs to you and being so unwaveringly insistent that it really belongs to them that you give up.

Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task – like being aggressive toward you and, when you stand up for yourself, vehemently accusing you of being abusive.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” they are right – like rewording things you or they said so that there are too many little lies to try and fight that you don’t know where to begin.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting.

Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work for the gaslighter. One of the scary parts of Gaslighting is that, oftentimes, the gaslighter seems to believe that what they are saying is true.

Gaslighting can be a terrifying experience. It can quickly put you on the defensive, manipulate you in to trying to justify your own actions or behaviors, when what you started out to do was challenge someone else’s wrong behavior.

A gaslighter’s prevarications may be presented so convincingly and with such conviction, that you not only doubt your own memories and sense of judgment, you also start to fear that other’s (who don’t know the truth and don’t see things from your perspective) will become persuaded to believe the gaslighter instead of you.

This leaves you feeling even more trapped, more confused, more powerless, and feeds a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

What To Do

  • ALWAYS keep yourself (and any children) safe FIRST!
  • Avoid arguing the “facts” with the gaslighter – they will not surrender to your view of things unless it serves their purpose (we will discuss this more when we look at “Assenting in Order to Manipulate”).
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the other person’s feelings or behaviors
  • Keep a journal (if you can do so safely) of these kinds of conversations when they occur. You will find the running record a powerful tool in reassuring yourself that you aren’t the crazy one.
  • Consider recording (again, if you can do so SAFELY) some of the interactions.
  • Have safe and perceptive people with whom you can discuss these things. A dialog with a trusted counselor, pastor, family member, or friend so they are aware of what you are dealing with can be very helpful.
  • Do the healthy best-practices you need to do to get out from under this kind of oppressive behavior. Calmly refuse to accept it, and absent yourself from the conversation when it starts.

There will be more coming in the days ahead.

Soli Deo Gloria

Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking in Hotels

Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking in Hotels.

For the many who are traveling to the Super Bowl or even whenever you  travel, these are warning signs to watch for sex trafficking. Hotel and motel industry workers are being trained to watch for these warning signs, especially during this weekend for the Super Bowl where massive numbers are expected. Authorities are asking that everyone, including hotel/motel guests be aware of these warning signs and report any suspicious activity to hotel authorities who will contact police. These young girls are victims and need your help…

A trafficker or pimp may:
• Pay in cash
• Escort various men into his room and linger or watch the door until they leave
• Remove himself from operations by having adult females request rooms or pay the bills
• Not leave the victim alone
• Control all or most of the money and identification
• Speaks for the victim
• Requests rooms with access to exits
• Is seen with many young women, who exhibit signs of trafficking
• Uses inappropriate nicknames with the victim
• Waits while other men frequent the room
• Is distrustful of security personnel
• Does not let victim move freely on the property
Trafficking/victim interaction could include: 
• Victim refers to trafficker as “Daddy”
• Trafficker uses derogatory slang
• Trafficker has openly threatens or physically assaults the victim
• Trafficker has inconsistencies in his stories
• Trafficker orders adjacent rooms
• Trafficker keeps late or unusual hours
• Little or no luggage or clothing
• Seems disoriented
• Does not speak freely
• Dresses inappropriately for their age or the weather
• Uses inappropriate sexual language for their age
• Is seen with many older men
• Wears clothing that is revealing or consists primarily of undergarments

Words to listen for: 
• The Life
• The Game
• Bottom B****
• Bottom Girl
• Daddy
• John
• Track
• Turnout
• Square
• Trick

Any of the above warning signs that should immediately be reported to hotel management.

Reference:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-grace-meng/hotel-industry-combats-se_b_4682151.html?utm\_hp\_ref=new-york&ir=New+York

To Be Such a Man

To Be Such a Man

This story was shared with me by a pastor several years ago and I wanted to share it with you all this evening. One of the elders in his church told him this story and said that it had changed his whole outlook on being a believer ad on his response to people that God brings across his path. Here is what he said:

“I sat, with two friends, looking out of the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day.

As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying a well-worn sign that read, ‘I will work for food.’ My heart sank.

I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and cynicism.

The stranger continued through the square and out of sight and we continued with our meal. The image of the stranger lingered in my mind and I wasn’t as attentive to the conversation or the food as I had been.

We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was a bit fearful, though, because I knew that seeing him again would call some kind of response on my part. I drove through town but saw nothing of him.

I made a couple of stops, made some purchases at a store and then got back in my car and headed for my office.Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: ‘Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square…Don’t go back to the office until you’ve driven at least once more around the square.’

After a little hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the third corner of the square, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the store-front church, going through his sack.

I stopped and looked; I felt compelled to do two things: I felt compelled to speak to him, yet I also felt compelled just to drive on to my office. The empty parking space on the corner by where the man stood seemed to be a sign from God – like an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town’s newest visitor.

‘Looking for the pastor?’ I asked.

‘Not really,’ he replied, ‘just resting.’

‘Have you eaten today?’

‘Oh, I ate something early this morning, thank you.’

‘Would you like to have lunch with me?’

‘Do you have some work I could do for you?’

‘No work,’ I replied. ‘I have a small one-man office on the outskirts of town, but I would like to take you to lunch.’

‘Sure,’ he replied with a smile.

As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. ‘Where you headed?’

‘St. Louis .’

‘Where you from?’

‘Oh, all over; mostly Florida.’

‘How long you been walking?’

‘Fourteen years,’ came the reply.

I was stunned and I knew I had met someone unusual. He was gentle and well spoken – not at all what a “professional” homeless person seemed like they would be to me.

We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered somewhat beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, ‘Jesus Is The Never Ending Story.’

Daniel – the name of my new friend – began to unfold his story. He had seen some very rough times early in his life. He’d made some wrong and bad choices and had reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier while backpacking across the country, trying to make some sense out of his life, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona, Florida. He had tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought.

He was hired to help for the day, but the tent would not be housing a concert that evening. It would be housing revival services that evening and over the next several days. Daniel stuck around. And it was during those services that he heard some things he had never heard before, felt some things he had never felt before and thought some things that he had never thought before. He began to see his life a whole lot more clearly. On the third night of the revival, he gave his life over to God.

‘Nothing’s been the same since,’ he said, ‘I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did – some 14 years now.’

‘Ever think of stopping?’ I asked.

‘Oh, once in a while, when things seem to get the best of me   But, God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles and talk to people about Jesus Christ. That’s what’s in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out whenever and to whomever His Spirit leads me to.’

I sat there amazed at what I was hearing. My homeless friend was not really homeless. He was on a mission and he lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: ‘What is it like?’

‘What?’

‘To walk into a town carrying all your belongings on your back and to show your sign?’

‘Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a rude gesture that certainly didn’t make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people’s concepts of Him and of other folks like me.’

My perceptions were changing, too. We finished our dessert and he gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, ‘Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in.’

I felt as if we were standing on holy ground. ‘Could you use another Bible?’ I asked.

He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well, was not too heavy and was easy for people to understand. It was also his personal favorite. ‘I’ve read through it 14 times,’ he said.

‘I’m not sure we’ve got one of those, but let’s stop by our church and see.’  I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful.

‘Where are you headed from here?’ I asked.

‘Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon,’ he said, pulling out a folded and well-worn flyer from his hip pocket.

‘Are you hoping to hire on there for awhile?’

‘No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that’s where I’m going next.’

He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated with the peace from His relationship with Christ and with the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we’d met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and he unloaded his things.

‘Would you sign my autograph book?’ he asked. ‘I like to keep messages from folks I meet.’

I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; Plans to give you a future and a hope.’

‘Thanks, man,’ he said. ‘I know we just met and we’re really just strangers, but I love you.’

‘I know,’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’

‘The Lord is good!’

‘Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?’ I asked.

‘A long time,’ he replied.

And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, ‘See you in the New Jerusalem!’

‘I’ll be there!’ was my reply.

And so he set out on his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, ‘When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’

‘You can count on it!’ I shouted back. ‘God bless you!’

‘God bless you, man!’ And that was the last I ever saw of him.

Late that evening as I left my office, the wind was blowing strong. The cold front had settled hard over our town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them… a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the brake handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend, wondering if his hands would stay warm that night without them.

Then I remembered his words:  ‘If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?’

Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry. ‘See you in the New Jerusalem,’ he had said. Yes, Daniel, I know I will…”

 

If this story touched you, perhaps you would share with us how it has done so?

‘I shall pass this way but once. Therefore, any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.’

Prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to pray for one another as often as we think of one another. Pray that the Lord God will bless and keep us in the center of His will that day. We never know when that small prayer could make all the difference in the world for someone.

‘Father, I ask you to bless my friends, relatives and loved ones, and even those with whom I am at odds right now. Bless them right this very moment. Show them a new revelation of Your love and Your power. I pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to their spirit even as I pray this prayer. Where there is pain, bring them Your comfort and give them Your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence in and through Your grace. Where there is sin, bring repentance and cleansing though Jesus’ precious blood. In His mighty name I pray. Amen.’

Soli Deo Gloria

Merry Christmas

Confused by Confusion

Overheard:

“I’m always a little confused by my own mind …”

Sitting in abuse healing groups week in and week out over the years, I have heard this said – or some variation of it – hundreds of times.

As a survivor, I’ve experienced it myself, so I get it: sometimes your own mind can be the most confusing place to find yourself.

We seek truth, yet we shy away from it. We want to know, but we feel better off not knowing. We want to understand, but some of the pieces necessary for that seem to be missing.

On top of that, when we are high-functioning in at least one area of our life, the confusion confuses us: “Why am I so confused so often, and why can’t I figure this out? I do so well (in whatever area of life I am high functioning), yet I suck here.”

One of the reasons for this kind of confusion is that there is a part of us that has learned to survive by keeping the deepest truths in the shadows.

If what we believe to be true about ourselves is indeed true, then we are even worse that we believe ourselves to be. That would then means that we are beyond help and there is no hope because all of this evil that happened is about our “being”, and not about somebody’s “doing”.

And the village of “Shame-filled Hopelessness” is the worst place in the world to live.

The remedy to the problem is simple but is also one of the hardest for survivors of abuse: The safest place to be is the scariest place to be, and that is leaning into and walking through the junkyard of the painful memories of your life, seeing them as they truly were and not as what they have come to look like.

What that means is that we learn to re-examine the hurtful things that have happened and, instead of thinking, “When ‘so-and-so’ did ‘such-and-such’ to me, it wasn’t because there was ‘something so wrong with me’, but ‘there was something really wrong with them that they would do this to any child, including me.'”

We get these things into the light where God’s power is activated and released, out of the darkness and the shadows where our Enemy lurks and works. W don;t do this alone, but we pursue the truth because THAT is where our freedom really lies.

Yes, it is scary. The fears we have are real fears. But we have to remember that, while feelings are real, feelings ARE NOT FACT!

Feelings change; facts do not.

When we learn to see things for what they were instead of what they have come to look like, the truth shines through and the confusion clears. We learn to file things in the right folders, put proper names on things, and call things what they are.

Jesus’ promise that, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) is never more true for a survivor than here.

 

Soli Deo Gloria