This post is about the insidious ways we silence others.
While scrolling through my FB feed a few weeks ago, an ad for a new movie, Women Talking, popped up. The movie is based off the earlier book written by Miriam Toews. I watched the trailer, did some research, and quickly ordered the book from Amazon.
The book, and then movie, was inspired by a true event that took place years ago (2009) in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Men from the community used an chemical spray to render women and girls unconscious (over 100 of them throughout the years of abuse) in order to sexually abuse them throughout the night. It’s a gruesome story! 1.
They woke with no recollection of what had taken place and could not fathom where the bruises, blood, and semen came from. At first their husbands and the male community leaders thought demons were attaching the women. They didn’t believe the women. Not until some women caught the culprits climbing the roof into their bedroom windows, were they finally listened to.
So, when at home from work due to illness, I took the time to read the book. My daughter suggested I read something humorous and lighthearted, laughter is better medicine, Mom, she said! The book was not as upsetting as I expected, so all was good. And I recovered and returned back to work.
But the book is worth listening to.
The author explores what the women may have discussed when trying to decide what to do with the men who raped them. Should they stay or leave? Should they let the men back into the community if the men repented? Could they ever trust their leaders who quickly failed to believe them? Should the women use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how love covers a multitude of sins, so to speak? Could their silence reveal a the work of forgiveness?
Sadly, women, Christian or not, who are in abusive relationships in homes and places of worship everywhere, wrestle with this on a regular basis. When no one listens, we are trained and socialized to be silent.
Please take the time to read it. It is an important work. It is not a retelling of the events of the attacks, so no gruesome details are told. It is a fictional account, yes, but one that tells the truth of the situations facing many women in today’s culture.
So now, I’m putting the book aside.
I want to turn my attention to the lessons I learned this last year about the benefits and dangers of what it means to cover the sins of others and how easy we learn to be silenced.
As many of you know I spent a good amount of 2022 researching scholarly works and numerous sources in order to write on the subject of disability and suffering. I had promised my sister a book of her childhood. In my enthusiasm for the project I did not realize how painful it would be.
In the telling of each story I found myself unable to share the whole story, the unvarnished truth. It was complicated to put into print the accounts as they really happened. I found my adult-self trying to salvage the actions of those who caused enormous suffering to the two of us.
I found myself reinterpreting the events in our life and I wondered why. Perhaps I hoped to spare my sister more pain if someone should read these accounts to her. Some thoughts and feelings are better unspoken. I hope you agree. It would not do for her to learn of the trauma taking place my own life.
Since so much of my childhood was an addendum to my sister’s life, it felt natural to slip back into the familiar patterns. What started to be my story turned into telling her story while losing mine. My four adult children and husband were dropping subtle hints to be careful, to protect my heart. Later some of those were direct and not so subtle. I assured them that I was stronger, that I had recovered from the memories, and there was no need to worry.
When frustration and anger set in, I knew it was my own fault. I was surprised when the stories took an odd turn of redeeming my parents. At first I thought this was beneficial, glad that I had gained a grown-up perspective on their struggles as young parents raising a disabled child. Maybe I wasn’t just a casualty from an unhealthy home.
Examining their lives through my adult-lens did give me insight into their behavior, but unfortunately it did not remove the memories suffered at their hands and in our home. I regretted how I had been unconsciously absolving them of all sins, for lack of a better word! I patted myself on my back, convinced I was following the biblical principle that “love covers a multitude of sins.”
Then Thanksgiving arrived.
I was an emotional wreck. I claimed my emotions were simply related to mourning the fact that my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the week of Thanksgiving in 1983, while I was pregnant with my third child. Holidays were rough, when he died in December, just weeks after the initial diagnosis.
But then I realized every other Thanksgiving prior had carried a heavy burden of pain. Fights with my husband during Thanksgiving took place and I could never pinpoint why?
So this Thanksgiving, I sat in my green chair sifting through the memories for some explanation.
Then I remembered a holiday dinner from the past. It could have been Thanksgiving, maybe not. But I settled with Thanksgiving.
We were all at my aunt’s home. Aunts and uncles were gathered round the main dining room table. The cousins were gathered at a separate table near the kitchen. I was not at either table, most likely sitting next to my sister in her wheelchair to help with her meal.
I was a bit jealous not to be sitting with everyone at the cousin’s table. They appeared to be having a great time. So much laughter and chatting was taking place.
One of my younger sisters laughed out loud. Actually she squealed in a high shrill voice. I can still hear it today.
My dad, sitting with his siblings and their spouses, was obviously and enormously embarrassed. He lurched from his chair and lunged toward my little sister. He grabbed her hair at the back of her neck, wrenched her out of her chair, and dragged her into another room. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember the fierce anger on his face and his raised voice. When they returned from the other room, my sister had indeed learned her lesson. She sat in shame-faced silence. We all did!
And that’s what broke my heart. More than watching my sister be humiliated and shamed in the presence of so many, was the utter silence of the adults who witnessed it! No one came to her rescue. No one spoke up in her defense. No rebukes came from the other adults when dad returned to the table. Not a word was uttered by my grandfather, who at this time in his life was a kinder and gentler person than in his earlier years as a parent of 9 children. Everyone simply returned to eating their meal.
My tears were stuck in my throat, and clearly in my soul, all these years! I wanted to scream for help! “Don’t you see, we need intervention? Someone to step in and rescue us from this broken home?”
I learned that day to be silent, to store the pain in my soul. It has taken years to let the truth out.
Thankfully, I have been enormously blessed with a husband, children, and grandchildren who not only listen well, but who encourage me to speak up! I write for them and for a better world.
Returning my thoughts to today.
There is a light shining out of the darkness!
Women are no longer content to be silenced. It may have worked decades ago, but it is unacceptable today. They are speaking up, calling out their brothers to do something. Calling their brothers to hold others accountable for mistreating their sisters.
This isn’t a matter of those men in charge giving women permission to speak! We are already empowered to speak.
No – this is siblings, brothers and sisters in the family of God, in the Body of Christ, coming to terms with the problem of a hierarchical system out of control and structured after the system of darkness that oppresses others, that masquerades as church polity.
Calling out the darkness is dangerous work, and some are obviously not too happy about being held accountable.
The most recent Christianity Today article 2 which draws attention to John MacArthur’s church, reveals a rising up of good men who are beginning to listen. They are no longer content to sit at the board room tables while their sisters in Christ are being spiritually and physically abused in private rooms by their husbands and church leaders.
It is high time to uncover the things committed in darkness (Eph 5:11), otherwise the Love, that sacrificial Love of Jesus, that does indeed cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) will be nothing but a charade.
And, dear brothers and sisters, the world is watching!
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