A Sandusky Sermon – Especially for Preachers and Youth Workers
Last night at about 10:00 pm, the verdict was read for Jerry Sandusky: guilty on 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse of children. Immediately afterward, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with reactions. Some were more classily worded than others, but across the board there was a sense of great relief and joy that justice had been done.
Along with many others, I posted this to my Facebook page:
A little later as I scanned my Twitter feed one last time before going to bed, I ran across this tweet:
What we would say to Jerry Sandusky if he walked in our church on Sunday directly reflects how we feel about the Gospel.
Those words hit me with the same force as a sucker punch to the gut. I could not go to sleep until I responded. I couldn’t say all I wanted to say in 140 characters, nor did I want my response to set off an ugly tit-for-tat match. Finally I settled for this:
True, but please understand that many who love Jesus have also been similarly abused. Sometimes forgiveness takes time.
Maybe this person has never looked into the eyes of someone who, as a vulnerable child, was abused at the hands of somebody they respected and trusted and then were told: “Nobody will believe you if you tell.” Or “I will hurt you mama, your baby sister, your little brother if you breathe a word.” Or “Who’s going to listen to you? I’ll just deny it. They will believe an adult over a punk kid any day.” Or “They will know it’s your fault. Everybody will look at you and know what you did.”
I have. Someone I love – several someones, in fact – experienced this very kind of thing. Year ago I attended a seminar for law enforcement officers and social workers on the sexual abuse of children. I went with the investigator who was working on the case of someone I knew very well. It was horrible. The stories and the images have never faded from my mind. Unlike most of our society, I have never since been able to stick my head in the sand and pretend that such things could never happen to my kid, or in my neighborhood, or in my church.
For someone to find the courage to take his/her story public – to sit with investigators to tell the story, to sit in a public courtroom to tell the story again in front of countless witnesses and the abuser himself and to be cross-examined and torn apart by defense attorneys – it’s almost more than any victim can bear. I cannot imagine the inner strength it took for those ten young men, plus Sandusky’s adopted son, to be willing to do that.
So to those who would tweet/proclaim/preach things tomorrow like the tweet I shared above, I say this:
Please do not further the abuse and shame of the victims of sexual abuse by indicating that if they could not, tomorrow, welcome Jerry Sandusky (or their own abuser) into their church with open arms, then they are also failing as disciples of Jesus’ gospel. Yes, they need to work toward forgiveness, but if they don’t have it by this Sunday, or next Sunday, or on Sunday a year from now, they are not failing Jesus. They are recovering from abuse. Preach forgiveness, but do NOT shame those already shamed at the hands of others.
Please be careful what you say and how you say it, especially if you will be speaking from a place of authority, such as a pulpit. I guarantee you that a victim will be in your midst, listening to what you say. So encourage forgiveness, but do so with care. You will be speaking to hearts and bodies wounded in ways you cannot understand.