One of the constant realities of my work as a pastor is the connections I have made with victims of childhood abuse. As I have worked with people who have suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse during their early years, I have become deeply aware of how painful and traumatic such abuse is. It can and does affect an individual for the rest of their lives. It affects the ability to form healthy relationships; it affects the ability to develop healthy self-esteem; it may even affect the ability to live a long life.
Any kind of abuse at any age is wrong and evil. And for that reason, I am hopeful about the developing trend for abuse victims to feel able to report their abuse and name names. As long as abusers of any kind can do their evil without fear of the consequences, abuse will flourish. Fear of being named may not change an abuser’s basic drives but it might prevent at least some of them some from abusing some people some of the time–and while that may not seem like a great victory, it is a victory for the potential victim who doesn’t get abused.
So, my hope and prayer is that our culture continues this recent trend to empower victims of all kinds of abuse to speak out. Evil flourishes when it is hidden in the dark–shining light in the dark corners of life is a positive and powerful force that benefits everyone. Taking away the power that fear and concealment provide to abusers and giving it to those who need protection from abuse is an essential part of changing our world.
But I have to say that I do find one part of the developing process interesting, at least from a theological point of view. While there are some people whose outing as abusers surprises no one, there are other situations where everyone is surprised that so and so could ever do something like that.
For a variety of reasons, we assume that certain people would never do anything bad. They are such nice people or they play such nice people in the media or that have such a great job or wonderful family or they have lots of money or are so smart. We assume that because they are X they could never do evil–another application of the halo effect (see my post for Nov. 24/17).
And because we assume some people are incapable of such terrible things, we have one of two reactions. Sometimes, we simply deny the reports–they accuser has to have made them up for some evil reason of their own. But mostly, we believe the report and end up disappointed and become even more cynical–if we can’t trust so and so, who can we trust?
Theologically, we shouldn’t actually be surprised. We can be disappointed and hurt and upset–but not surprised. The Christian faith–and most other faiths, for that matter–is very clear on the fact that there are no perfect people. As Paul puts it in Romans 3.23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (NIV). All of humanity shares this fatal reality: the best of us harbour dark and evil sides and the worst of us harbour light and good sides.
And that means that all of us are guilty of something. Dig deep enough into someone’s life and you will find the darkness and the evil. This is a reality well known to politicians seeking to ruin an opponent, investigative reporters looking for a big story and theologians seeking to understand the world. We all have a dark and evil side and we all will either act on that darkness or fight it for our whole lives.
When people act out their dark and evil side, it really shouldn’t be a surprise. It can be wrong; it can be criminal; it can be devastating; it will have consequences and it must be dealt with appropriately–but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. It is a reality of the human condition, a reality that God recognizes and seeks to deal with through the live, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
May the peace of God be with you.