You might find this surprising, but I sometimes read Focus on the Family’s entertainment blog. I started reading it years ago when I had more in common with their target audience, and I actually find it somewhat addicting. But, the movie reviews can be unexpectedly snarky, and I’m very much in agreement with the writers that sexuality is exploited by Hollywood far too often.
I realize I’m more left of center than the target audience now, but I’m responding to this blog post by Juli Slattery, founder of the women’s ministry “Authentic Intimacy,” because it represents an attitude seen far too often in Christian circles regarding the healing process of sexual abuse survivors.
The aforementioned post is a response to Lady Gaga’s gut-wrenching Oscar performance of “Till it Happens to You,” a song that rightly calls out those who judge and victim-blame by saying “You don’t know how it feels.” Before I heard that song, I wouldn’t have called myself a Gaga fan. For the most part, I still don’t. Her songs are a bit too dance-poppy for me, but if she produced more ballads like this, I’d definitely jump on her bandwagon.
As a survivor herself, Gaga performed this song with such moving intensity and emotion, making it difficult to criticize, but still Slattery did. The reason? It was too depressing. It lacked hope. More to the point, it didn’t mention Jesus as the ultimate healer at the end. But before she mentions that, she says this at the beginning, which comes across to me as a bit victim-blamey – quite unbecoming for someone in the counseling profession:
The tidal wave of sexual exploitation in our world will not subside until we recognize sexuality as a great spiritual battlefield. It is sadly ironic that the same people decrying sexual abuse create countless films that objectify women and present sexual pleasure as a commodity traded as freely as baseball cards. This cavalier and humanistic attitude toward sexuality, pornography, and the “hook up” culture are clearly propagating the tragedy highlighted in last night’s Oscars.
I’m shocked that the irony of this sailed right past Slattery. I’m not a fan of the “hook up culture” either, but what separates casual sex from rape should be rather obvious: consent. There is a world of difference between songs that celebrate sex between (let’s assume) consenting strangers and songs that encourage or make light of rape (I’m looking at you, Robin Thicke). A person who willingly has sex with one stranger is always within her right to refuse sex with another. Why is that so difficult to understand?
Now, back to the passage about Gaga’s song lacking hope:
While Lady Gaga’s song was bold and purposeful, it offered no hope. In fact, the message was that victims of sexual abuse suffer alone because no one can quite reach into their despair and brokenness.
Yes, that’s quite true. Again, to quote Gaga, “Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.” That’s relevant to any tragedy. It’s not right, it’s not wrong; it’s just the way it is.
You know, I don’t need every song, book, or blog post about trauma to encourage me. I know where to look when I need that. Sometimes it’s nice to listen to someone who’s been where you are; who knows the pain you’re experiencing, and despite it all, ended up pretty damn successful.
We want to tell you clearly; you are not alone. Jesus is the God, who sees your pain, who hears your cries in the night, the God of all comfort, and the One who can bind up your broken heart. He can release you from the prison of your sin and the darkness of your shame.
Okay, back up. Really Slattery, you could have stopped after “bind up your broken heart.” As a Christian myself, I have no issue with this (I still believe that Jesus + therapy + anti-depressants is the best medicine, though). But what was the point of mentioning “prison of your sin”? Don’t you mean “the rapist’s sin”?
This is why, though I’ve had two great Christian counselors in the past, I am generally skeptical of “Christian counseling” as its own separate field. I’ve heard too many stories of Christian “counselors” who don’t seem willing to do the hard work of letting a client really feel and parse through their anger, because forgiveness is treated like a magic antidote that makes the pain disappear. And those who struggle with forgiveness, or perhaps aren’t ready to make that step, are accused of being “bitter,” a sin that’s just as bad as the rape itself.
Frankly, if anyone deserves grace for being bitter, it’s rape victims. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be dealt with. For all her training, it doesn’t sound like Slattery is all too familiar with the psychology of abuse and its lasting effect on survivors, or else she’d show more sympathy for the fact that healing from abuse takes WORK. Prayer, yes, but also a lot of work.
And even then, sometimes the best you can do is learn to manage the pain. Isn’t part of the Christian life about learning how to carry a cross? For some people, rape trauma and PTSD is that cross.
Lady Gaga, He has “been there.” Why did the God of the universe suffer abuse, ridicule and torture at the hands of human beings? So that He would be the “man of sorrows, acquainted with our grief,” identifying with us in our deepest pain.
This is like saying, “But not all Christians are like that!” when someone shares how Christians hurt them. The statement is technically true, but it’s condescending in its attempt to minimize the pain of the person speaking.
Let’s get one thing clear: Jesus suffered, yes, but he was never raped. That’s a whole different level of suffering.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not acknowledge God as the Healer of our sexual brokenness. The unspoken lie we believe is that sexuality is beyond God’s ability to heal, to redeem and to restore.
I think God sometimes doesn’t heal abuse survivors for the same reason he doesn’t heal some people of cancer. Well, actually, I don’t know the reason. But not all things can be healed, and we may never understand why until we meet God face to face. That’s not a “lie”; that’s reality. It’s flat out cruel to tell an abuse survivor that the validity of their faith depends on whether or not they make a full recovery from the trauma of rape. Would you dare say that to someone who survived a car accident? This is an act of violence that was forced on someone, and yet the burden of recovery falls on the victim? What the hell kind of psychology is that?
Good intentions aside, a “counselor” like Slattery has no business being in this field. Her “advice” is the very picture of spiritual abuse masked by a facade of holiness.