“It’s just the way of the world.” “It is what it is.” Take or leave it, this explains the eschatology I was raised with.
We were “so heavenly minded” that we were “no earthly good.” We focused on saving ourselves and to hell with the rest of the world quite literally.
Head in the clouds, head in the sand, we were not interested in this world but were dressed and ready for Jesus’ return. Not certain of the day or the hour, bumper stickers on our cars read: “Rapture ready.”
My Holiness-Pentecostal church taught me how to protect myself from lust by telling me that my body was a lure. The Bible had an answer for everything, but what about unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touches and rape?
We, girls, were prepared for marriage. Jesus was our boyfriend until then.
White dresses were for good girls. It represented purity and holiness. Virgins, we were the right kind of girl he would want to bring home to meet his parents.
Until then, we were to learn how to cook, clean and raise a family. We played house, and the boys played games.
Long dresses kept down and thick stockings to cover up my lust-inducing legs wouldn’t have protected me from molestation at age 7 or 8 and being twice-raped at age 12 and once again at 15.
I was too young to remember how old I was when it first began, but I remember the red and yellow Wonder Woman tank top I wore. I remember knowing instinctively that it was wrong, that is wasn’t a good touch and an invasion of more than my privacy.
I tell you this to save someone else the grief of holding this pain in their body.
I share my story to empower you to tell the truth and shame the families, churches and governmental institutions that protect wolves in suits and ties, in clergy robes and collars, and that diminish the voices of women and children and discount their horrific experiences because they don’t wear suits and ties, clergy robes and collars. Because they don’t stand in front of a teleprompter or behind a pulpit and aren’t the head of the family.
Because this is not just about truth but power.
Because every time I hear accusations of an abuse of power, as in the case of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, of the assertion that a woman’s body belongs to everyone but her, that she doesn’t remember the incident quite right and that she is lying every single time, I remember my own story.
No one believed me the first time either. Maybe if they did, it wouldn’t have happened again and again.
For all of the North American church’s focus on the family, sex and sexuality, it seems unready and theologically unprepared to discuss the “sins of the father,” brother, next of kin, next-door neighbor and family friend (Deuteronomy 24.16).
Because “what would Jesus do when she is raped or molested?”
Instead, the institution is being dragged into conversations about sexual predation, harassment and abuse. Silencing and shaming, aiding and abetting tools, are often used. Scriptures are used to skip over justice and get right to reconciliation.
Many victims, like myself, were told to keep quiet and think of the bad things that would happen to our abusers if we told.
But woe to the church that cares more about the “perfect” family picture and the appearance of godliness than its actual application!
It took a hashtag followed by the words, “me too,” by my sister Tarana Burke, who encouraged victims to share their experiences.
For the church, it’s going to take bars of another kind, an interruption in its regularly scheduled programming, beginning with its theologies of gender, sex and sexuality, and it must include ministries of advocacy and accountability.
It’s going to require a shift in thinking, in no longer gendering evil and locating temptation in her body.
It’s going to take faith because it will require that the church believe her the first time.
Rather than cover up her body and cover her mouth, the church must expose those who covered her mouth and took her body against her will. Otherwise, she is, and we are, doubly victimized.
I am not working for the world as it is but for the world as it will be.
This is not to be confused with optimism or positive thinking. Not happy-go-lucky and more than a feeling, and yet, I feel it deeply.
Because I am bone tired of the predictability of the violation and injustice of minoritized and marginalized bodies.
I want all bodies to belong and to feel right at home in themselves without the threat of harm, to live and move freely.
So, bear witness with me and speak for another world.
Director of The Raceless Gospel Initiative, associate editor, and host of the Good Faith Media podcast “The Raceless Gospel.”