If you follow my blog or have read through past posts, you will see it is rarely a place for unguarded reaction. It is mostly a place for my reflections on Scripture and my Sunday sermons. There may be a personal update here and there, sharing news with those far away, maybe a response to current events. Yesterday, I broke that trend, and I have been overwhelmed. I suspect I will go back to my usual pattern of careful thought and lots of editing.
Most of the comments I received yesterday were words of profound and humbling gratitude. Bullying thrives in silence, behind whispers and silent tears. Victims are intimidated into keeping silent. My writing the truth about bullying in the church was, for many, a relief and a release, because I put in words what was weighing on their souls. I wept as I wrote it, I wept as I read and was reminded of the pain that has become so much a part of life in the church. I suffered it in childhood and adolescence, put it away in my university days, only to encounter it again in the workplace and later in the church. I have listened as other adults are bullied. Sometimes I spoke up. The times I didn’t still haunt me.
In one conversation yesterday, I said, “I think my hope in writing this is to find people who are willing to stand up with me. It is not just scary to stand up on your own. It is ineffectual. We need allies. I guess this might be my way of saying I’ll be an ally and I am looking for more.” Others responded they would do the same.
I neglected to paint a full picture. I didn’t say enough about how clergy abuse parishioners. We are trained well in group dynamics and how to work with many different personalities. It means we can also be very good at manipulation, abusing the trust that is given to us. We close ranks to protect one another. The church has come a long way when it comes to preventing abuse and identifying abusers, but we still fall, and we have the trail of lawsuits, criminal charges and wounded victims to prove it.
I sat down today and looked at yesterday’s post in light of this Sunday’s epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 13*, using it as a test. I was troubled by Paul’s speaking of endurance. Does this mean we have to endure being bullied, because that’s what it means to love? Do we have to be patient while we are being attacked? Do we really have to put up with all things, again and again? Is that truly what love looks like?
In fact, Paul had some pretty harsh things to say earlier in his letter to that very same community about how they treated one another (1 Cor 11:17-34)**. Paul did not let poor behaviour slither under the rug. He spoke the truth. All the time.
Love isn’t arrogant, rude or irritable. This is where I failed Paul’s test and I fail it every day. I may not have written my post in capital letters or used lots of exclamation marks, but I yelled. And for those of us who have been yelled at across a table, with fists clenched and pounding, or had someone stand tall over us to use physical size and voice to intimidate us, being yelled at is always traumatic. It is painful and can weaken us for days. I hurt some readers with my anger, and, for that, I am truly sorry. I hope in time I may regain your trust and your companionship.
I am still angry today. I’m angry because people I love, clergy and laity from all kinds of churches, are still bearing the scars, physical, emotional, and financial, of how they have been hurt by the people of God. I am angry when I sit in church and I feel their absence.
I still have no solution, because I can’t solve anything on my own. I will strive to always do what I can, offering it to God who is Love, and to the Christian community called to reconciliation and justice. I will try to remember that all of this was conquered on the cross, and I am always accompanied by the resurrected Christ. Ultimately, I will strive to be your ally when you are suffering. That’s what I promised when I was baptized, confirmed and ordained. I will, with God’s help.
* We often hear this at weddings, and imagine Paul speaking to two people about their love for one another. Paul’s words were, actually, for an entire community. The love he describes in this text is a love that we are to share with everyone in our community.
** After giving this young community many instructions, Paul reacts to how people are treated when they gather for communion. Unlike the formal ceremony at the front of the church that Communion is today, in Corinth, early Christians gathered in each other’s homes and the Eucharist was held at the family table with a meal. Every culture has different rules about who sits at the table and where. This meant that those who were not friends of the host, particularly those who were poor, rarely had a place at the table, and often sat in another room while the friends of the host ate a meal. Paul writes strongly about their wrongdoing.