*Disclaimer: This post is directed mainly at South Asian Christians, though certainly not limited to them. This is not a light-hearted, optimistic or cheery post. It is a heavy and painful subject matter, and I had to stop several times while writing this to compose myself. I will reference some things that may be uncomfortable or bring back horrible memories. My aim is not for you to live or relive what may have happened, but to shine light on something that is destroying the South Asian church.*
I remember the first time I heard it. A friend in college told me how she had been sexually abused by an older family friend, an “uncle” as we would call in the Indian community. And it tore me up to know that she was the victim of such a heinous crime when she was young, but then came the real shock: she told me almost every South Asian girl she knew had a similar story. A cousin. An “uncle.” A neighbor. A clergyman/pastor.
Now over the years, I have lost count of the amount of women (and even men) I’ve talked to who have had a story about someone, a trusted person, fondling them, or sometimes worse. Every one has told me they’re not the only one. And most of them never tell their parents or people of authority because they’re afraid.
Last night, I wept for yet another friend who confided about a “visiting pastor” staying with her family that took advantage of his position and molested her when she was much younger. This same pastor then went on to preach revivals the next few nights, and no one was any wiser to his actions. Other friends had experienced the same with other older men and pastors, she said, including the pastor of the church they used to attend. Someone who continues to lead his congregation.
It is a prevalent pandemic, and everyone seems to know things like this happen. But no one talks about it. If you’re reading this, I guarantee you know victims of abuse. You might be one yourself, and my heart breaks for you.
It’s enough to make my blood boil in righteous rage that these wolves in sheep’s clothing prey on innocent lambs, those in our community who are the most vulnerable. And it breaks my heart for the brokenness and depravity of people. Sin is no respecter of persons or titles, be it family member or man of the cloth.
First, let me offer a word to those who have fallen prey to sexual abuse: it is not your fault, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, be it parent, minister, or yourself. That is a lie from hell. Grown men and women cannot blame children for their wandering hands or deviant sexual desires. Second, God does not love you any less because of what has happened to you. You’re not damaged goods. It is a tragically horrific thing that happens, one that no one should ever have to go through, but there is healing and restoration found in Christ, counseling, and biblical community. At the cross, our disgrace and shame are transformed by what Jesus has done. Jesus is in the business of redeeming broken people and offers freedom in light of the day when he returns to finish making all things new.
For too long, far far too long, this issue has been kept under wraps within the South Asian community. There are whispers here and there, but no one wants to talk about it outright. Instead, it is brushed under the rug with the hope that no one finds out. In the attempt to keep it “in house” and not cause a public scandal or shame, churches and families try to deal with it on their own. The problem is that we are not equipped or able to deal with abuse, especially sexual abuse (let’s call it for what it is and not try to sugarcoat the term). When abuse is hidden and not reported, you get incidents like what happened at Penn State or what has been uncovered at Sovereign Grace Ministries. They knew about the sexual abuse and tried to deal with the issue and the perpetrators on their own, but for years, it continued, and stories like these are being brought to light all over the country. The thing is, most churches do not have the resources to handle those guilty of sexual abuse, and almost never know how to help the victim of abuse cope with what has happened. By not bringing the issue to light and justice, the cycle is just repeating over and over and over in countless families, churches, and communities. In trying to protect the “dignity” or family of the perpetrators, we are sacrificing the innocence of the most vulnerable members of our community: the kids. Children are enduring physical and emotional abuse so that grown men do not have to deal with the consequences of their evil acts. And victims are left alone to suffer with what has happened and to wrestle with how to get past the hurt and shame and move forward. Sexual assault claws through its victims and can affect every aspect of your life: faith, emotions, relationships, identity, sexuality, and self-image.
So now let me implore us to not keep silent about this any longer because chances are that if someone has abused you at least once, they’ve done it before, or they will do it again to someone else. As a victim, someone who has experienced abuse myself, I know how hard it is to talk about it. I know it can feel like you’re betraying a family friend or respected person. Let me implore you to not hide it or keep quiet about it. Those who are guilty should be brought to justice by the justice system of the land. Let the state do what the state does; God has them there for a reason.
“For rulers [government] are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13:3-4
This is not something we can continue to keep silent about by saying we’ll solve it on our own. We can’t. And every time we don’t report sexual abuse, we are putting other boys, girls, women in danger of being victims of the same thing. We are doing a disservice to the Christian faith by not bringing this sin to the light and protecting those left in the wake of abuse. The church must be a safe place for the innocent and weak and wounded, not a safe haven for wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is grace and redemption and healing in Christ available for both the one who has abused, and the victim, but we can’t get there by covering up cases of sexual assault. We can’t get there by leaving opportunities for abuse to continue.
This is not a smear campaign. This is not a witch hunt. This is about defending our boys and girls, our women and our families from those who would take advantage of their power. Those who take advantage of the fact that this is a taboo subject. This is about dealing with a rampant sin issue in our community.
Parents, ministers, and peers, we should report cases of abuse to the appropriate authorities. We must embrace and show compassion and love to the victims as Christ has embraced and shown love and compassion to us. And we must begin this change of culture by talking openly and honestly about sexual abuse.
**UPDATE** There is a blog that has been created to help girls share their stories. It is http://shhh7214.com/
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