Don’t wait for someone to come forward

by Amy Young on December 15, 2017

People, I have been praying for several days about what to share this month. Every idea I had was . . . fine. But in none of the ideas did I sense God say, “That. That is the post for this month.”

Until this one.

We are going to talk about sexual impropriety, so if you need to take a pass because this post might trigger traumatic flashbacks, please do. Peace be with you my friend.

It seems the U.S. is facing a time of reckoning when it comes to men in power, female subordinates, and sexual impropriety. Actors, directors, sports casters, politicians, chefs, news reporters. The list goes on. Some of the men are truly scummy, some seem to be good guys who have one area of their lives very much hidden and in the dark.

While this reckoning is long overdue, in every incident I’ve seen on the news and social media there is one common refrain: So and so is facing allegations.

I applaud every victim who is able to tell her (or his) story. I also applaud those who have not shared; you live with your story every day, it is yours to choose when to share.

Each story has broken because a victim came forward. Not once has the accused come forward first and said, “I am going to take a leave from my job, go to counseling, learn how to handle my power, and work on making amends.”

As the numbers grow, I keep wondering “Who is going to model what healing, restoration, and redemption look like?” Which network or profession is going to be the first to take a risk and after a person has done the hard and necessary work, allow them a place at the table.

This is my hope for us as a community of Christ followers. We know sexual impropriety exists on the mission field. We will not get a pass on this reckoning.

But we can get ahead of it.

During my years in China, I heard almost every way a person could sexually sin. Not all situations required drastic measures, but all required taking the situation seriously and having frank discussions with plans for addressing it. In lives where it felt like the bottom fell out, often the person (and family) needed to leave the field for a season. But that was not the end of the story! With the hard work of excavating the soul, identity, and personal power, change and even returning to the field occured.

If you are currently embroiled in sexual impropriety, it will come to light. I do not know when. I do not know how. But if you are hoping your story won’t be found out, that is a fool’s bet.

Tell someone today. You are carrying a secret that will take more of your time, energy, and relationships until it steals everything. Christ died so that you no longer have to be a slave. Be a part of showing the world the world that not only did Christ come to save “them over there;” he also came to save actors, directors, politicians, athletes, news reporters, and you.

If you are the victim of sexual impropriety within your organization, find someone safe and report it. I am sorry for your experience.

If you are in leadership in your organization, please create space to talk as a leadership team about the subject of sexual impropriety in your organization. To not put this on your “to-do” list. Send an email right now to get the ball rolling. With others in power ask: how are we going to foster discussions within our organization? What resources can we offer to people? What is our plan when these situations start to be reported in our organization?

This post isn’t about resources. It is a warning.

Our day of reckoning is coming. Let’s get ahead of it.

My hope is that it is also a day of redemption.

This may be an odd Christmas post. But isn’t this why Christ came?

God with us—even in this messy world he loves dearly.

 

(Resources welcome in the comments.)

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About Amy Young

Free resource to help you add tools to your tool box. When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at The Messy Middle. She also works extensively with Velvet Ashes as content creator and curator, book club host, and connection group coordinator. She writes books to help you. Amy is the author of Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China and Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service. Looming Transitions also has two companion resources: 22 Activities for Families in Transitions and Looming Transitions Workbook. You can listen to it too.
  • Nycki Heisler

    “Each story has broken because a victim came forward. Not once has the accuser come forward first and said, “I am going to take a leave from my job, go to counseling, learn how to handle my power, and work on making amends.””

    I’m wondering if there is a typo in this paragraph. I think maybe it was meant to say, “Not once has the accuseD come forward first..”

    • Yes :). I had corrected it at The Messy Middle (I noticed yesterday), but not here. Thank you! And I find it a bit sad that the only response — from anyone— is on a typo :). Yes, typos need to be pointed out. But really? That’s all people have to say :)?!

      • I don’t know what to say… Except that we must be utterly naive to think that this isn’t happening. Thank you for being a voice for truth!

        • Ah! That makes sense. I just heard of another case in the States last night. My concern with the lack of comments is that if we can’t even say, “This is important.” or “Yes, we need to think about this” — it can look like we don’t take this seriously . And I know we do!

          • Distraught

            Thank you for posting this. It actually came at a great time. My life has been turned upside down this week finding out my husband had been having an affair on “tango” with an old high school friend for over a year. Worst part was that my son knew about it and carried it on his shoulders so that I wouldn’t be hurt or that he would get backlash from his dad. I’m not ready to share my name with the world yet but know that this article is so true. For months I suspected and he lied every time I asked him who he was talking to when I could clearly see he was on a different app that I didn’t recognize. He thought he could just continue but eventually it all came out and now I have decisions I have to make and it won’t only affect our family but the entire ministry.

          • Casey

            This just sounds so horrible. I prayed for you this morning, especially for God to provide someone kind and wise and understanding to walk with you through this. May God feel nearer to you than ever…because He is!

          • Tammy Brouwer

            Sending you a cyber hug!

          • Distraught, there is no need to share your name! How both heart wrenching and a bit confirming that you are not crazy and that your suspicions were founded. And the involving of your son, I am so sorry. Praying for you to have people to process with, resources as you need them for each leg of the journey, and a strong presence of God’s love for you.

  • Dawn Johnson

    The mission community in Haiti is now dealing with one solo missionary who went back to the US to confess and take the consequences. We don’t know yet if he did that on his own, or if a public revelation was already on the way. Yes, there needs to be more confession in the mission ranks before much of Haiti and many others will take missionaries seriously again. Too much has gone on, and not just sexual sins.

    • Dawn, this is both heart-breaking and a bit hopeful. YOu’re right, while I don’t know Haiti in particular, in too many places, missionaries have used their power more for themselves and less for Jesus. (But I also know there are plenty of believers who work very hard to live a God honoring life and ministry). May the way we handle these situations point our fellow missionaries and local friends to God.

  • Richelle Wright

    I find it sad that you’ve not received more comments either. Maybe it has to do with the busyness of the season. But it is also a touchy topic and I think people are afraid to talk about it.

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate your focus on redemption and restoration as you’ve opened this discussion. It seems (especially with this genre of subject), people are much more interested in justice, or even, vengeance. I truly believe some sins do disqualify the sinner from some future ministries and/or service, I don’t believe sin ever disqualifies from all service or from pardon and restoration. I can’t believe that, or none of us would ever be qualified to minister. I totally agree that we need to confess our sins, one to another (i.e. honesty and transparency) – so that we can get on with the process of restoration and authentic accountability.

    • Richelle, my personal blog is called “The Messy Middle” because I believe that is where we are called to live, holding both grace and truth in tension. It is easier to lean more to one side than the other! I also agree, that certain sins do disqualify people from certain ministries/service, but not from the work of God in our lives and some other calling, setting. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Elissa Picconatto

    Yes, what is done in secret always comes out.

    On the positive side, think about how much happens when someone uses a “prayer closet” and how their lives are beautifully altered by their alone time with God.

    On the negative side, how tragic that there is a lie believed by so many people that they can view whatever or act however they want behind closed doors without consequences to themselves and others.

    I hope that this cultural earthquake will result in broken prison doors for both the oppressed and the oppressors so they can all walk in freedom.

  • bumis smichele

    I agree with every word, and would add that since many of us are westerners in shame based cultures, if we don’t model handling these situations in a kingdom of God culture way, we are also responsible for how they get perpetuated in our host cultures. I have been shocked to see the sexual impropriety of Asian leaders swept under the rug, but more shocked to realize that it’s being dealt with in a similar way among American Christians as well. Thanks for speaking up. I hope it starts some good conversations!

    • Thank you Bumis. Yes, much to our shame, too often situations are swept under the rug — especially if a person acts contrite enough. It is weighty (as it should be!) to think of the accounting we will need to do before God. How we teach our brothers and sisters around the world to handle these situations (and how we each individually learn how to handle them better) may leave more of a legacy than we realize. God help us. Truly, God grow us, challenge us, walk with us, and help us!

  • Amy, I am thankful that you are writing on a hard topic that doesn’t get nearly as much frank discussion as it deserves. Missionaries and the people who care for them absolutely need to be talking openly about sex and every related topic. I also agree with you that when it comes to lust, pornography, and affairs, the men and women who find themselves in the struggle should find space and grace to come forward for mercy and help to deal with those issues.

    But…

    I fear that you are conflating two distinct issues and putting them both under the label of “sexual impropriety.” The reckoning that has emerged recently in America is not about lust, pornography, and affairs. The reckoning that we are seeing is about sexual abuse, rape, and criminal behavior. It is disturbing to me that you are calling the abused “victims of sexual impropriety.” No. They are victims of criminal sexual violence. These are not the same things.

    What I notice is that this is the same misconception that is keeping victims silent in wider culture. Because if what happened was “sexual impropriety,” the victims are complicit in what happened – an affair happens by mutual consent between two adults. The focus is on the perpetrators (or “sinners”) and how we can get them healed and back into ministry. And that’s good when we are talking about lust and porn and affairs. However, when it comes to criminal behavior where there is a victim – sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, there is not mutual consent and the focus must be on the protection of past and future victims.

    The process of redemption of a person who has fallen into sexual sin and had an affair is extremely different from the process of redemption for a person who has violated another person sexually. In the former, we can lavish grace and, in the case of true repentance, often restore the “sinner” to ministry with healthy accountability and mentoring as we care for the families and help them deal with the impact on their own lives as well. But when a person has violated another human being, our first impulse must be to protect the victim and make sure she/he has all that they need for the healing process. Our second impulse must be to protect future victims. If a person has a history of sexually harassing and sexually abusing people, putting them back in a place and role where they can often operate outside of the law and often abuse with very little observation is ill-advised. Our third impulse must be to assist the perpetrator on the road to redemption, but we have to do it wisely, keeping in mind that serial offenders are often incredibly skilled manipulators and liars. Redemption for the sexually violent should be done in a community where there are solid laws and a responsive criminal justice system protecting future victims and where there are people carefully watching the perpetrators for possible re-offenses. The missionary community is delusional if they think they are equipped for this.

    So yes, let’s talk about sexual impropriety and make it easier for those who have fallen to sexual sin to seek help and forgiveness and restoration rather than being caught and removed from ministry. But please, please, please, let’s not confuse this topic with the Reckoning about sexual predatory behavior currently happening. Sexual impropriety is about lust; sexual abuse is about power. One has a victim and the other does not. One holds potential of restoration of the sinner to their ministry, but the other demands protection of the victims even at the cost of the perpetrator’s ministry. We need to have 2 conversations.

    • Dalania, thank you for your thoughtful comment! I think we are saying similar things — I used the more general term “sexual impropriety” as an umbrella term to cover both criminal and moral situations. I also agree that the path to redemption for criminal and moral are different. But I still contend that both can have elements of redemption. I also contend that both criminal and moral impropriety exists on the mission field and if we think it is “only” moral, we are fooling ourselves. “Redemption” does not necessarily mean that someone will return to the field. I am aware of situations that I would not be comfortable supporting someone(s) return to the field, probably ever.

      I have been in the place to support the victim (both local victims and expat) on the field, and you are right, they must always take priority.

  • Tammy Brouwer

    I’ve always told people (those who think missionaries are ultra spiritual) that the mission field is a great place to backslide. Why? Because of lack of accountability. There needs to not only be accountability within the organization, but also from the sending church. We have been on the field since ’95 and have NEVER been asked hard questions about our walk with the Lord, purity, family, marriage, etc. It is just assumed that everything is ok, or that we would share if its not. Part of our ministry is offering lay-counseling to the missionary community. Missionaries are hurting. Missionaries are struggling with various sin issues. No one in their organization or church ask them any deep questions. Asking hard questions is one place to start.

    • Tammy, this is a good reminder. When I was in leadership on the field I know I made people squirm because I was willing to publicly talk about these subject. I also followed up by privately asking people questions — and let them know these were standard questions I asked anyone. If we can normalize these subjects, we move closer to living in the light.

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