|Commissioned Ministry for Healing and Healthy Environments
By Jaime Romo
Healing and Spirituality
September 7, 2010
My healing journey began when my own memories of abuse surfaced, as with so many others, in 2002 with the news of the Boston sexual abuse cases. Part of that journey led me through rage and a rejection of all things religious. The last few years have led me to integration and clarity. I am dedicating the rest of my life to promote healing and end sexual abuse everywhere, particularly in religious organizations.
My two year process to be formally installed as a Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments (CMHEE) in the United Church of Christ ended a week ago. It began a few years ago when a registered sex offender came to my church and wanted to share fellowship, and then that person’s very presence triggered re-traumatization of those in the congregation who had experienced past abuse. To accept or not accept— under what conditions? The issue threatened to split the church. I chose to work with the abuser and through my own trauma. It was painful and an important part of my own transformation, as well as the transformation of the now even more vibrant congregation.
To my knowledge this role of CMHEE is the first of its kind in preventing the hurt and addressing healing from Religious Authority Sexual Abuse (RASA) and other kinds of abuse in the United Church of Christ—perhaps in any religious group. But so what? What does that mean?
In part, what this CMHEE means is that there is a commitment from a local and regional level to let go of the illusion that religious settings are neutral or automatically safe places for children or vulnerable adults. Advocates to end RASA have been involved and inundated with the demands of uncovering and presenting the background and current practices that perpetuate abuse; they have also been responding to individuals in crisis for years. So much of the critical work of providing survivors and others who now recognize the abuse, betrayal and devastation, particularly in religious organizations, with healing resources has yet to be done. Likewise, the work of moving from ‘safe churches’ to ‘healing communities’ lies ahead. This CMHEE means that a group of church folks are willing to do more than deny and more than implement a policy.
39 million people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form, and many others are indirectly impacted as well. Sadly, most victims live among us with near-invisibility. A conservative estimate is that 20% of the population in any organization (i.e., church, temple, mosque) carries some abuse experience. Sadly, most religious groups do not have a meaningful ‘Protecting All God’s Children’ (i.e., Safe Church) Policy, developed by the membership, or a functional Response Team in place. Click here to see a short video related to this.
All of us are impacted by sexual abuse in some way, particularly RASA, and we have an obligation to bring healing for all. I hold the perspective that we’re all in this together. There are no winners and losers. We’re all it, and survivors and supporters, accused and accusers need to be treated with kindness and love. If that doesn’t happen, we all lose. Healing is for and about all of us.
So, what’s next? First, we recognize our own call to be wounded healers. Here’s a terrific reflection on being a wounded healer. Then, we take action that brings reconciliation, understanding and systemic change, not symbolic or incremental change. Finally, we end abuse against children and vulnerable adults everywhere, beginning in your own religious organization’s memory and history. Being a safe church prevents future abuse. Being a healing community helps those already present to heal from past wounds. Promote healing and work to end sexual abuse everywhere.
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