(From Pastor John Jay)
There are times when the pastors of FBCP need to speak on weightier matters with a different tone, and the last week (year/decade/century/forever) necessitates a pastoral word. If you or someone you love has been affected by the national conversation around sexual abuse and gendered violence, know that you are not alone. Our church has been holding this tension and pain with you, and your pastors want to share a few words at this time.
This reflection is not about politics, even though partisan politics appears to be the only way people are allowed to speak these days. This is about the Gospel, and the distance between our hopes and our reality. A year ago we explored the women in Jesus’ genealogy from Matthew 1, particularly the silencing of these Scriptural voices and our recovery of their witness. The Holy Spirit was clearly driving the conversation, because our focus dovetailed with a cultural unveiling of pain and suffering from women and girls particularly. This was expressed in the compact phrasing of #metoo, and the our tragic version of #churchtoo. From the trial and conviction of Bill Cosby to the public hearings for the Supreme Court, the last couple of months have reopened old wounds. The path to healing will run right through this pain. May we have courage to turn toward our sisters and listen, and then courage to change the patterns that make these stories tragically common.
(From Pastor Lindsay)
As stories of sexual assault continue to come to light, I keep returning to the many conversations I had with young girls while teaching middle and high school students. I can recall many of those discussions with vivid detail because they resonated deeply with me. To describe one is to describe them all. They go something like this.
A few bold but anxious girls ask to speak with me during lunch, so we gather around a table and they begin to share what's going on—what the adults on campus might not see. They tell me that they have friends who are boys, some they have grown up with, and they care about them. But they don't like how the boys talk to them and about them. They hear things like, "You should wear tight yoga pants. They make your butt look good," and "Your new nickname is Abe Lincoln—because your chest is as flat as a penny." They tell me that they want to feel good about themselves, but it's really hard when they hear things like that. One girl says it's why she wears a baggy sweatshirt most days. They feel stuck because these boys are their friends. It's hard to stand up to them because it only invites more teasing and accusations of being dramatic. They also don't want to get these boys in trouble. What, they ask, should they do?
I can feel my heart rate increase; I'm at once heartbroken and angry. I'm heartbroken for these girls who already understand how their worth will be defined, whose identities are already being taken and distorted and handed back to them with no instructions on how to fix them. And I'm heartbroken for the boys who already understand—in the seventh grade—what it means to be a boy in this world. They're not just some "bad kids," and they're not inherently bad because they're boys. They, like their female friends, have grown up in a society saturated with images and language promoting toxic masculinity and the objectification of women, neither of which reflects the image of God. It's not their fault, but this is the world they inhabit and it will become their responsibility. I'm angry because we can do better. We must do better.
Those students remind me we shouldn't be surprised that the #metoo movement speaks to the common experience of girls and women—not unique or rare, but a 1-in-4 kind of common. We are slowly waking up to what should have been obvious all along. Like any cultural shift, it will take time for us to dig up the roots of our social landscape so we can plant something new, something that reflects our Creator.
But there is hope! I am encouraged by those girls who sought help in their time of struggle. Deep down, they knew that something was wrong. It was not their job to educate me about the problem, but it was my job to listen, to advocate for them, and to be a safe place for them to process what they felt. It was also my job to find support and mentorship for those boys. It was a privilege to come alongside them, and I am grateful that my role as a pastor is no different.
I am also encouraged by the women, men, and children in our church family. You are loved, welcome, and safe in this community. Your stories matter, and healing is nothing if not found in the gospel. It is our privilege to listen and it is our job, as a body of believers, to work together to start telling a new story. I can't imagine a better place to begin than with each of you.
If you or someone you know needs to speak with a mental health professional, Dr. Mandy Cassil has helped provide a set of local resources.
Dr. Clara Aparicio (Spanish and English)
Dr. Maria Panagakis(Greek and English)
Dr. Alexandra Linscott(Spanish and English)
Dr. Shannon Couture O'Flinn
Lastly, here are some resources our staff has found helpful.