Some of you know that I went through a situation of #MeToo #ChurchToo. I wrote about it in a blog post back in April when the information started coming out about Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. I addressed questions like why did it take so long to be made known? How do we know the women aren't making this up?
I was the worship leader and he was the married senior pastor. He made inappropriate advances. I was only walking with God for a year and saw him as a spiritual father. I told the elder board and they began the investigation. The congregation didn't know about it for months as we all tried to figure out the best way to help him. Yes, you heard that right. Even I was drawn in to HELP HIM. I ignored my process because no one gave me permission to NOT help or pray for him.
Sadly, this story isn't the only time I went through this kind of thing. As God leads, I will share more in various different posts in the coming weeks.
Why am I talking about it again? Well, sadly, another leader has been exposed and I want to reach out and give so much encouragement and advice to the hurting and confused.
- The women who were abused
- The leaders who are weary of trying to help their brother in Christ
- The bystanders who believed in this man and don't understand what's happened
In this post, I want to address the 3rd group. The Bystanders.
I want you to know some of what internally goes on so you understand the initial and lasting challenges. I think it will help you process your own pain of the news and be patient with everyone involved. The challenges affected me and the leaders who were helping us through it.
My #MeToo #ChurchToo situation impacted how I saw God, men in leadership and myself. I wish I had someone who walked it out ahead of me. Someone to tell me it's ok to feel however I feel. And encourage me at the same time that I can't stay in a negative place or I'll lose my authentic self.
Here are some of the initial challenges that came as surprise to me. And what I only learned years later about what was going on.
- I didn't know what to say when interviewing for a new job. Why did I leave? Would the hiring person hold it against me? What do I say? When I did share it, I didn't get that job. It was like I was a risk. The “boys club” was very evident.
- I was afraid to look spiritual men in leadership in the eyes. If they seemed too nice to me, I feared they were going to “like me” the wrong way. I didn't want to encourage them. But that wasn't my responsibility. It was a spirit of shame trying to isolate me.
- I questioned myself and wondered if I'd been too uptight about the whole thing. He surely made me feel that way by the way he defended himself to the elder board. They questioned themselves and the seriousness of the incident at first too.
- I was afraid to be pretty or attractive. I started putting on weight and avoided dating. I tried to protect myself in unhealthy ways.
- I felt rejected by the leaders I trusted in some ways. The elders were gun-shy about supporting me because they didn't want to make me uncomfortable. No man wanted to be seen encouraging me for fear of being accused by others of something inappropriate. Forget Christian side hugs … I wasn't given a tap on the arm. And I didn't want hugs anyway. But it was like the elephant in the room that none of us knew how to address.
- I felt bad for being angry sometimes. Wondering why he could still have a job and I had to fend for myself? I suppressed righteousness anger and delayed my healing process.
- I wondered why God didn't give me a husband so this never would've happened? (I know it happens to married women but that was the way my brain was processing it all.)
There are so many other things I was struggling with. I could (maybe should) write a book.
The women you know may not be able to identify the things going on in their hearts and minds. Or they may not be able to communicate it to you. They most likely will have different challenges than I did.
The key to helping them is to do two things that seem to oppose each other:
- One, ask them if they want to share with you. Let her know you are there for them and then be there, for however long it takes, when they ask.
- Be sure to check back in because as time goes by people forget they are still healing. It's a strange thing, but we feel some sort of shame at times. And we don't want to be a burden to anyone.
- Give them permission to be and feel without giving them advice. Just be present.
- Don't over sympathize and keep them trapped in the negative place.
- Give them permission to share what is comfortable with them but don't ask questions about the event unless they've given you that place in their lives. They most likely are trying to honor God by not sharing details. Or there are legal things they are bound by.
- Second, don't ask about it all the time. It can bring up the pain when they are happily moving on or enjoying a moment of not thinking about it.
- Help them see other things in life. Or just do normal things … help them get back to normal life. And if they zone out, they are so sorry. They don't know they are doing it sometimes. It feels like the world is revolving around you and you can't participate.
- Remind them of who they are and God's plan for them. Don't tie it to the trauma. Just remind and encourage them to go after their dreams.
- Our world has been tossed upside down. And the trauma of it all comes in waves. Sometimes when we don't expect it. Please forgive them when they don't do relationship with you right.
- Show a little extra grace when they snap at you or act unlike themselves. They most likely will feel terrible. I'm not saying to leave it unaddressed. But be more sensitive during this time.
YOUR OWN PROCESS
I know you are also hurting and sometimes coming alongside the woman feels like you are helping. But please, please, please … when you speak of the person who abused your friend or family member … remember they don't need more ammunition to be angry. They are now in the healing process. They are further along than you so don't pull them back to your stage in the process. That means they need to start (even if slowly) to forgive.
I have two opposites to share with you again.
Don't defend the offender.
This may seem absurd to some of you. But others may feel inclined. But please don't defend the person who offended her. There will come a time to say they need prayer and compassion. Yes, they do need it. And Jesus died for all sinners.
But if you don't know the details then don't say anything that the abused person will read or hear. You may be embarrassed later when you find out the offender duped you. Just because you've never seen something like the allegations, doesn't make them any less true. Just because you trust them doesn't make them trustworthy. And by defending them, you can hurt the woman more. I had someone ask me, “What did you do?” As if I encouraged him to stumble. I couldn't tell them the details, so it looked like I was guilty of something when I was just trying to be careful to honor my fallen brother, the process set out by leaders and navigate any potential legal action.
Most of the time the woman was close to the man and had an admiration for them. She is in process of trying to see how she missed it, releasing her expectations, forgiving etc. It's so hurtful when you say you can't imagine they would do something like that. Because the women sometimes can't believe it either. When you do this, you inadvertently end up calling her a liar. It's hard enough to bold and come forward. When her heart is trying to heal from the pain and it keeps getting attacked … it can't heal. It's like you are doing to her what the offender did. By the time the news comes out the woman has already gone through so much.
Sometimes you want to believe the best about the offender. My friend, Gabriel Lopez posted this recently:
Don’t make the mistake of raising someone on a pedestal by lowering your discernment. Many incredible men and women over the years have had phenomenal gifts and fallen into sin. The gifts and calls of God are irrevocable. Gifts don’t depict intimacy.
Don't defend the powerful woman of God.
You'd think that defending her would make her feel supported. It does. Speaking out when she can't is a powerful way to bring light to a situation. But it can also cause more division. And that is the other thing she is afraid of too. So support her but don't defend in a way that attacks the other person. By over defending her, you are taking away her power. Instead, give her more power by reminding her that you are proud of her and stand alongside her.
Now, I realize some women are ok with you defending her with fervor. But after going through this a few times, I can say it's already scary for us to see abuse of power. So if you get angry and aren't in control of your words and authority, it can feel unsafe to be your friend too. She may think she wants it at first, but when you let go it can feel unstable.
Also, when you get upset it makes her feel like she has to calm you down or help you through your emotions. How about you manage your own emotions? You don't need to express them to her in order to process this event. Find your own independent counsel.
BEWARE OF CONTINUED MANIPULATION
I could write a whole post on how you can navigate what comes next. The devastation that was left behind was not just because of what he said to me but in the lies and manipulation that followed.
I felt hopeful. Then crazy. Then disappointed. Over and over again.
In situations like this, where an authority abuses their power, a vulnerable person is made to question themselves. You are probably questioning things too.
Be aware that more is to come. The truth has come out but the enemy has more destruction in mind. He wants to get you involved to cause more confusion.
When someone is in survival mode, they will do anything to survive. Including lie and manipulate. And the longer they've lived this way and gotten away with it, the easier it's become to be an expert at it. Even the most discerning are unaware. But those of you that don't walk day-in and day-out with that person, you really don't see the patterns.
Manipulation can be like gas-lighting and you feel crazy for having thought the worst. Manipulation makes you say you're sorry for thinking that. Manipulation makes you hopeful only to be disappointed when it happens again. They take you to their inner world and create a false narrative. But you think it's reality. You think you're making progress but … the manipulator was making all the progress by convincing you their lies are the truth.
This is the place your friend just escaped. This is what the leaders are processing. They are all tired. Please don't make them explain the whole process to you. And don't be offended if they didn't share earlier. Gabriel also wisely suggests,
Just because you’re seeing the ‘last step’ of a biblical process, doesn’t mean the previous steps weren’t taken before.
But trust God also has a plan. And it's a good one!
Trust Leadership: You most likely will want to investigate and find out the truth for yourself. I implore you to trust those who are close to the offender and the leadership that is involved in the discovery and discipline process. No one wants to destroy someone's career or ministry over nothing. If you've heard about it … it's been in process for a while. I say more about this in my previous post. If you don't trust that the leaders handing it are doing it right, then talk to them privately. They may not be able to tell you more due to the same reason I couldn't say more to those who asked. It's a difficult thing to judge. If the leaders aren't doing it right or doing enough to protect and help your friend, you want to jump in. I get it. But tread carefully. They are also suffering through this. Be sensitive to them as well. (More on this in a future post)
Wait to See Fruit: You will need to wait and see how things play out. If the offender is experiencing godly sorrow, you will see the fruit that keeps with repentance. If it's not there, nothing will change. Meaning the offender will defend themselves. They may throw an “I'm so sorry and I take responsibility” in the mix. But only their actions will tell the truth. And only time will tell.
Keep to Yourself: The offender may reach out to you for sympathy or to hear their side. Don't. Just don't. If God didn't involve you in the beginning or middle … don't take the bait at the end. The enemy would love to bring more people into the tangled mess. Pay attention to what needs healing in you. Maybe you had a previous situation like this and you are being triggered. Let God reveal and heal you too.
Pray for Everyone: You were caught off guard by the news. Or you had a “feeling” all along. Now is the time to pray for everyone and not gossip or spread the bad news. Don't partner with the enemy in this manipulation game. Pray for the offender and their family. They need God's love. God isn't done with them yet! God still has a plan for broken people. Pray for God to bring the body of Christ into a deeper relationship with Him. He will use this for good. Pray for yourself to be kept from temptation. Pray for the abused. They need it to, obviously.
WE ARE NOT VICTIMS
You can help by reminding me of who I am. Who we are.
I do not call myself a victim because I choose not to be. I'm also not a survivor because that would mean I was near some sort of destruction. I believe our words have power and I choose to say …
I'm a powerful woman of God who had a terrible thing happen to her. But I get to choose how it impacts my life. And God will bring beauty from ashes.
I choose a great life. I choose to be inspiring. I choose to be a safe place for others. I choose to continue to be brave. I choose to be a catalyst for healing. I choose to be a voice for those that don't know what to say. I choose to be an extension of love from a good God.
I had to choose every day. For years. By myself. I still do.
We are strong. And we cry.
We are moving on. And sometimes get stuck in the memories.
We are hopeful about the future. And sometimes can't see it.
We are restored. And sometimes hurt more deeply than we should when things that happen.
Bystander's, I love you! You are part of the body and by the time you hear of this, you are now called to be a part of the healing process.
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Thank you, Jill, for sharing your insight and your perfect words. You should definitely write a book! With high regards, Irina Blackert (from Germany)
Thank you Irina. I hope it helps people.
Thank you Jill for sharing your story and also for sharing how to help the people involved and the bystander who learns later. You are truly a very loving person who cares very much about people and church unity. I hope you do write a book to help the females who have gone through these situations. I went through a very hurtful event when I was very young (starting at nine years old) and it continued for six years. My mother having four children, (I was the only girl) decided to send me to live with my grandparents in a different state. My grandfather who has now passed away, was an evangelist who would go around telling his personal testimony, all the while was sexually abusing me. I didn’t know who to go for help. When I finally found the nerve to tell my mother, she talked to him and he totally lied about it. My mother believed him. I was afraid to tell my grandmother because I didn’t want to hurt her or hurt their marriage. Needless to say, as a young adult and out on my own, I did seek Christian counseling for help. You brought out so much insight I wish I could have heard sooner. But thank God for His loving grace to forgive and help me move to move with my life. Thank you again.
Terri, thank you for leaving a comment. I am so pleased that you were blessed and saw my heart in the message. It’s something I know needs to be talked about and I’ve tried to take great care in how I communicate my story in a way that honors God. I’m so very grieved that you had that abuse (not just the physical but the emotional too.) You are the reason I speak up – I hope to release more podcasts and blogs that will help people heal and be who God created them to be.