April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
I wonder if, amid the new life blooming all around us, we still have room left to hope that we will stop hearing #metoo and #churchtoo stories.
I wonder if we have room during the darkness of Lent to hope for the light of change and transformation.
I will be the first to acknowledge that when I read stories – like the one about the Ohio minister who offered to take a sexual assault and sexual abuse victim under his wing and then groomed the 14-year-old for sex on demand and shared her with his colleagues in ministry or the ex-mayor of Ohio who claimed a 4-year-old was a willing participant in sex acts – my hope fades.
Even with all of the light shed and spread through the stories of brave men and women sharing the sexual assault they experience, a new story appears every day not of past sexual assault, but of current sexual assault.
Volunteers abusing 3-year-old boys in the bathroom of a church. The church denying having played a part in leaving holes in their child protection policies for this to occur. And a whole slew of stories #whyIdidnt report.
Are we becoming too numb after hearing so many stories that we have become frozen in shock? Are the stories too close to our own stories?
When we stay frozen in paralysis because we don’t know how to start conversations as well as stop language and conversations that are filled with victim-shaming, we become part of this sexual assault culture.
We convince ourselves we can’t do anything, so we do nothing. We don’t want to cause more hurt, so we don’t say anything or do anything at all.
This stagnation only perpetuates the status quo. The status quo is not OK.
During the season of Lent, our congregation includes a prayer of confession used in many different denominations: “Creator God, we confess, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. We confess that we don’t like confessing. We don’t like the darkness and what it reveals within us.”
This season of Lent may we be burdened with the work we have left undone – the work that allows space for sexual abuse to thrive in our churches, in our places of business and in our culture.
May God grant us the courage to get our hands dirty, uprooting sexual abuse in our world so that new life and resurrection may have room to flourish.
Merianna Harrelson is pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.