How to Help Women Who Say They’re Leaving the Church

By Rebecca Hamilton
October 9, 2018

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Jo Naylor

Mary Pezzulo, who blogs over at Steel Magnificat, wrote a column today addressing what not to say when someone you know says they are leaving the Church.

She admonished her readers not to say that you’re glad they’re going and have they read John six.

I must admit that in all my years of messing with chickens, I never met anyone quite that stupid, but, then, I’m old and out of touch with the new everybody’s-going-to-hell-but-me Christianity. I have witnessed, heard and been the recipient of quite a few ill-wishers down the years who’ve told people, including me, that we were hell-bound and the hand cart to take us there was waiting at the front door. This is usually said with more than a little venom and gloating anticipation of watching me, roasting on a spit. There’s been a definite portion of you’re-going-to-hell-and-I’m-glad-of-it in these snarls.

I have, in the past few days, encountered three women in my private life who are, more or less, “leaving” the Church. One of them says she’s still Catholic, but doesn’t plan to go to mass anymore. It appears her extended family plans to stay home with her. Another says she is through with the Church and is going to join a denomination that ordains women. The third was never Catholic. She’s slamming the door behind her at the Southern Baptist denomination and says she’s through with all churches. Once again, it appears her husband and kids are going with her.

Do you notice the pattern here? It’s simple, really. If Mama don’t go, the family don’t go.

There’s a hard tactical reason why Muslim terrorists kidnap, rape and forcibly “marry” Christian women. Despite their misogyny, they realize that the core of a family, and of society, is Mama. Destroy Mama, and you destroy the faith and the society built on it.

I think that’s why Satan loves rape and sexual assault so much. If you doubt that rape and sexual assault are among Satan’s favorite ways of getting us to destroy ourselves, consider how often he uses it. Consider also what rape, sexual assault and sex abuse do to us. I’m not just talking about the victims who spend the rest of their lives trying to heal wounds that won’t stop bleeding. I am referring to the total destruction of the spiritual lives of the men — and 96% of sexual predators are men — who commit these heinous acts.

Think for a moment about the reptilian indifference that so many men evinced toward the suffering of victims this past week. They not only didn’t care about what had happened to these women, they were happy and supportive of other men — including members of the right-wing media and our sexual predator President of the United States — who mocked, belittled, hazed and degraded them.

This experience of societal indifference to the brutality of rape and sexual assault was a stunning revelation to a lot of women. They had entertained the belief that most men and most people found these crimes abhorrent. It was a profound break for them to discover that this is not true. They looked into the eyes of our leaders and most powerful people and saw the cold, unfeeling eyes of a snake looking back at them.

I’ve seen all this before. But even I was shocked and outraged by the behavior of Christian men, many of whom I had respected and admired for what I had thought was their sincerity of faith. I have also been surprised by how ubitquitous rape on our college and high school campuses has become.

As I said, I’m old. I had no idea that the number of victims had reached such a saturation point among women. I also had not reckoned with what this says about the men in our society.

I’ve always believed that, while 1 in 7 women may be victims of sexual assault, that does not mean that 1 in 7 men are sexual predators. I always believed that these crimes were being committed repeatedly by a few men and that other men were supporting them and helping to bully victims into silence because they didn’t understand what was happening.

I’ve realized these past few days that the number of our young women who are being brutalized this way is probably much higher than 1 in 7. I’ve also taken a blinders-off look at the behavior of men.

Our nation knowingly elected a serial sexual predator and crude-mouthed misogynist to the office of President of the United States. Every analysis says that his most enthusiastic supporters were men, and that “conservative” Christians voted for him as a block. I think that an analysis of the public reaction of this past week’s events would probably run parallel to that.

Since this sexual predator took office, we have watched as the male clergy has supported and bullied believers to vote for a child molester in Alabama, and now to put a man with numerous charges of sexual assault against him on the Supreme Court. During the time the debate about the confirmation of the sexual-predator Supreme Court justice took place, I had a number of conversations with men who I had thought were devout Christians, people who stood for traditional Christian morality and who would be as strongly against the barbarism of sexual assault as I was. Several members of the clergy were included in this group. Almost all of them supported the sexual predator and claimed to believe that all the women were lying.

At the same time, I’ve been approached by women, again both on-line and in person, who were victims of sexual assault. Many of these women, especially the devoutly religious Catholics among them, are a mess of confused self-blame, self-doubt and “understanding” for their rapist. Some of these women were vociferous in their attacks on the victims who stepped forward during the confirmation.

It was interesting to me to see how their faith in Jesus Christ had turned into a rancid disrespect for their own humanity. These were self-hating women who wanted, above all else, to distance themselves from what had happened to them.

The other women I talked to, the outraged and angry ones, voiced strong anger, a lot of which was new and unprocessed. This latest assault from the public at large compounded the original trauma and drove it deeper. It was the new, more global trauma of realizing that the institutions of our society, including those who say they speak for Christ, were indifferent to what had been done to them. It was an affirmation that the person who assaulted them was right in his estimation of them: They were nothing.

Now what does one say to another person in this extremity of disillusionment? How, exactly, do you convince them that Jesus does not share the indifference they’ve encountered, that He, in fact, judges it.

The only way through this break in faith and back onto the Way is through the Cross. Theological talk and self-righteous pretense are absurdities in the face of this kind of pain and hopelessness. They insult justice and deny reality. But the Cross is the answer, and not just an answer, one among many. The Cross is the only answer.

I can not and will not lie to these women and tell them that they will ever receive the dignity and respect that they deserve. They will not.

I can not and will not lie to them and tell them that the male clergy of this world will ever speak out against rape and sexual assault on a regular basis. I once thought this would happen if we just worked with them. But this last week has sent me on my own reckoning with despair. I no longer think they will.

What I can tell them is that Jesus knows what it means to fall into the hands of human monsters. He understands the pain of being mocked and hazed. He too has faced the indifference of cowardly politicians, corrupt priests, and jeering mobs. Those are the people who murdered Him.

The people who react with reptilian indifference to the suffering of victims of rape, sexual assault and child abuse are, in fact and in truth, turning their indifference on the crucified Christ. They are back at Calvary, yelling “Crucify Him!” with the rest of the mob.

That is what I tell them. I tell them that their suffering is part of Christ’s suffering when He hung on the cross. I tell them that they will find that they can bear it if they offer it to Him for the redemption of the world. It is a fact that He can and will turn even this heinous sin into something for good.

Not that it is good. It is from the pit of hell. But that He only does good and He only makes that which is good. If you give it to Him, he will make something of it that it was not before, and that something will be good and chances are, He will work through you and your passion for justice to accomplish this.

Suffering, even this suffering which is meant to degrade, diminish and befoul a person, can become both noble and redemptive when it becomes a gift of love offered through the Cross.

I never tell anyone who is talking about leaving the Church that they must stay. I don’t and wouldn’t dare try to tell them that God is angry with them or won’t love them if they leave. That would be a terrible lie.

What I tell them is that whether they leave or not, God will continue to love them. I tell them that if they ever decide to come back, their place at His table will be waiting for them. I tell them that the Way, the Truth and the Life are to be found in the disgrace of the Cross.








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