But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.
I recall investigating a particular mission field where a missionary had admitted to sexually victimizing a young daughter of another missionary. The field leadership called a meeting of the missionaries and informed them of the abuse and then gave them strict instructions never to mention the matter again. They were even warned that further discussion would be considered “gossip” and would subject them to discipline. Because of the admonition to be silent, many of these missionary parents never asked their children whether this perpetrator had also abused them. It was not until years later that some of these parents learned for the first time that their children had also been victimized. This heartbreaking silence protected a perpetrator while at the same time robbed these abuse survivors of years of counseling and healing leaving them feeling abandoned and worthless. Such silence declares victims to be worthless as it builds a wall of protection around perpetrators. There is nothing silent about being silent.
The book of 2nd Samuel provides the horrifying account of the rape of Tamar by her brother, Amnon, both children of King David. Next to the sexual assault, the most egregious aspect of this story is the utter silence that dominated those who learned of the offense. When Tamar disclosed the abuse to her brother Absalom, he responded, “But now keep silent my sister; he is your brother. Do not take this matter to heart.” Even worse is the response of King David, who had actually directed Tamar to Amnon’s house to prepare him food. Scripture says, “Now when King David heard of these matters, he was very angry”. David may have been angry, but he remained silent and did nothing. As a result of the horrific assault and the subsequent silence by those who should have loved and protected her most, Tamar became a “desolate woman” and Amnon walked away vindicated (though death soon caught up with this monster).
The identity of the perpetrator seemed to be the fuel for Absalom and David’s silence. Absalom virtually says so when he tells Tamar to be quiet because “he is your brother”. Whether it’s a notable pastor, staff member, or a well- respected member of the church community, the identity of the alleged perpetrator is still what drives many in the Church to embrace silence. Not long ago, I was speaking with someone regarding a physician within a Christian community who sexually abused numerous children. Though many were suspect of this individual’s bizarre behavior with children, they remained quiet due to the fact that he was a physician who was “needed” within the community. Once again, children were abandoned as a perpetrator was protected.
In her book, This Little Light, Christa Brown recounts that after being repeatedly sexually victimized by her youth pastor, she finally gained enough courage to report the abuse to the church music minister. Upon learning of the perpetrator’s identity, the music minister made young Christa promise that she would not tell anyone else of the abuse. A few weeks later, the church announced that the offending youth pastor had accepted a “calling” to another church. Not only did the church’s silence allow an offender to escape justice and move to a new church of unsuspecting victims, but it shouted to young Christa that she was worthless and not worth protecting.
A silent church will always protect perpetrators over God’s little ones. A silent church will always abandon the very ones God holds precious. In fact, a silent church is no church at all. God was certainly not silent in the face of evil, neither should we.
This post was originally published on Feb 14, 2014 by RNS. It is reposted here with their permission.