Naming Injustice and Oppression in Pursuit of God’s Justice and Mercy

[In today’s guest post, Lindsay Bruehl shares her open letter of gratitude to her church, a place where she stepped out of bondage to the injustice of judgmental legalism, finding freedom to grow in God alongside God’s people.]

The other day I wrote the most vulnerable piece of my life on my personal blog site. I want to share with you what led to the revelation of what happened to me and why I knew I could share my story without fear because of you, Wilshire.

Wilshire restored my faith that the transformational power of the local church is still alive and moving us forward for good.

Justice is a passion of mine and what led me to Wilshire, but what Wilshire also does is name the principality causing the injustice. I don’t know if you know how powerful that is to the human soul.

My Road to Emmaus

I have written about walking out on church in a previous post, “My Road to Emmaus.” I thought I had gone through all my pain and fears before I found Wilshire. But something else crept up this week unexpectedly, and I had an anxiety attack when another article came out on sexual abuse and church—this time addressing men I had always respected. Sexual assault is what made me flip my lid and walk out of church two years ago. I was shocked at the silence and lack of sympathy from church leaders and people I had been worshipping with for years. I kept asking myself, “How could this be? How are preachers not aware the abused are in their pews and they aren’t speaking to their pain.”

It was weird that two pastors on Twitter — Jonathan Martin and Cheryl Bridges Johns — could hear my pain. How can someone on Twitter hear me and people in my everyday life can’t? I can’t believe they found me worth their time, but they did, and they walked me through what I needed to process, healing me with the most beautiful words I had ever heard.

Pain is not pie

I do not compare pain with anyone. That is traumatic and not gospel at all. We treat everything as if it is pie. There isn’t enough for everyone to flourish, or your pain doesn’t matter because others have it way worse. What that does is force us not to deal with our pain. When I started listening to my own pain, I started hearing more clearly what people of color, LGBT, the poor, etc. have been telling me for years. This is systemic, and you aren’t hearing me. The thing is, I always thought I was an advocate. I knew racism and exclusion of LGBT was wrong and that there was a system working against the poor. I spoke up and believed them, but what I had failed to realize was that I was participating in the system. Pain showed me, and I left.

Name it and claim it

Coming to Wilshire I heard you name almost every week the abuse against women. Every time someone said it, it was like a part of my soul was being freed. When the #MeToo movement started, I felt the nudge I could say it too—but I ignored it. I kept thinking others have it way worse. This was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit, so I kept pushing it away.

My bitterness toward church was growing too. I knew I could not trust this story with the church. I saw the responses women coming forward were getting. I mention in my personal blog how some Christian men spoke to me when I challenged them on the “boys will be boys” narrative.

What I feared about church was coming true. What was worse was experiencing the silence of the nice people who just don’t want to rock the boat too much. A lot of these people do amazing work for justice, but they won’t say the Principality’s name. After listening to Jonathan Martin for two years, I learned we cannot cast out that which we will not speak. From the Gospel of Mark 5:9 (NIV) when Jesus was dealing with demon possession: Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” Legion—for we are many—that sounds like a name for systemic oppression.

What put me over the edge

When another article came out revealing another pastor guilty of abuse, and then reading about nice people who had supported him even after he had called the women liars, I lost it. I was shocked because I thought I was free. I found myself looking back at my past and getting angry. Jake had me talk it out, and I finally said everything that happened to me. Some of it I had suppressed and was just now remembering again. I had to suppress it to move forward. I had nowhere to take that story. Even if I did, it would not have been seen in the light of a systemic problem against women—just something unfortunate that happened to me.

Jake told me to write my story. It was the first time I admitted this part of my story to myself, and I shared it the next day. It also was the first time I knew I was protected enough to do it because Wilshire (a church!) would believe me, care that it happened and name it so we can end it.

What I’ve learned

Several things I have learned since sharing my story:

  • I found the source of my anger with the church, and now I can work on forgiveness.
  • The power of shame crumbled telling my story. It was abuse.
  • My screams of, “It’s the system and why don’t you hear me?” intersected with people of color, LGBT, poor, Muslims, etc. It is not the same pain, but it was the intersection where I could see I had been blinded by the system too.
  • We can do all the good in the world, but if pastors continue to pretend pain can be overlooked and go straight to joy, the church will stay in infant spirituality.
  • Naming the principality makes it safer for someone sitting right next to you to come out of hiding. We need to say “misogyny” and elevate women.

Writing my story is the most freeing thing I have ever done, but I also feel really weird. Living totally free, hiding nothing, is not a world I am used to. I am trying to orient myself here. Hiding had gotten comfortable.

I received an anonymous letter telling me she hopes more stories like mine come out, so we will actually do something about it. She cannot face her family or her church. What I would give to know her name and sit with her so she won’t be alone. I know her story, though. I will tell her story, and we can work together to say its name: “misogyny,” “abuse,” “assault.”

I offer my story to let others know they are not alone. My story I also offer as repentance for what I could not see until I went through my pain.

***

Lindsay Bruehl is a Texas Native, married for 17 years with 2 kids. Lindsay started writing after a huge life change a year ago, and now nothing is the same. Writing has helped Lindsay uncover her own story and connect to others who have felt left out. Now she’s applying to seminary out of her passion for the local church to be a place for everybody. No exceptions. You can find Lindsay at her blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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10 Responses to Naming Injustice and Oppression in Pursuit of God’s Justice and Mercy

  1. On one hand, I hope more comes out so that the larger Church can address this. On the other hand, I don’t know about others but I find it discouraging that the stories that have come out are not enough.

    • I know. I find it discouraging too. I am grateful I can share this story with more people because of Tim believing in my voice. These small movements forward keeps me clinging to hope.
      Thank you for responding. I appreciate you.

      • And thanks for writing. I appreciate you, too.

        I also appreciate people who can empower you and others to share as they feel comfortable, people like Tim.

        • Amen. Once I realized I had a church that believed me and had my back, it’s amazing how much energy that gives a soul. The shame was gone, and I could tell a story that needed to be told- and it’s really common unfortunately. It’s the system.
          I’m eternally grateful for Tim giving me this opportunity to keep talking. This journey has turned into the wildest ride of my life this past year. Hard edged hope.
          Thank you, Brendan.

        • Yes indeed. A church that believes you and heals you means the world, I’m sure.

          Yes, it has been a wild ride from the sound of things. At the same time, I’m glad that you’ve been helped so immensely by Tim and by your church.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and encouraging others, Lindsay. And I’m glad you found a supportive community that hears and speaks the truth.

    • Thank you, Jeannie. The community I found is worth more than gold. This is what community feels like. I have a story now. I’m grateful Tim gave me this opportunity to share as well.

  3. Nancy Le says:

    Oh, both of you, thank you! And God bless you both.

  4. Anu Riley says:

    I’m sorry it took me so long to read this, but am so glad I did!

    First of all, you’re an amazing writer. Good writing has a pretty simple aim: draw the reader into whatever you are trying to communicate.

    How that works out and plays out is another story! I would never say that good writing is easy! It is never easy to find just the right words, and say them in a way that connects with others. People who may or may not know what your life has been like, but need to know. Or, people who DO know what you’ve been through, and very badly want to hear that they’re not alone.

    “I do not compare pain with anyone. That is traumatic and not gospel at all.”

    Believe me—EVERYONE needs to hear that. It sounds obvious, but isn’t. The narrative goes:: oh, other people have gone through way worse than I have. I should focus on them, and I shouldn’t complain—I’m being selfish and self-pitying.

    Okay. Breaking a nail is NOT the same thing as breaking an arm! I get that. A broken dish is not the same thing as broken soul. Applying common sense is always welcomed.

    However, when any sort of common sense completely goes out the window, so does our sense of Biblical righteousness and passion for God’s justice.

    A victim of domestic abuse will commonly not be taken seriously unless it’s physical. Even then, church leaders will probably still balk at trying to ensure the victim’s safety. First—-if it’s not physical we won’t believe you. Then it becomes: we need to see bruises. Then it progresses to: it’s only one bruise. That’s not too bad. Then the narrative changes to: you’re still alive; you survived, so God still has a plan to save your marriage.

    Even if the abuser attempts to murder the victim, the argument may change to motive or intent on the part of the abuser: he or she didn’t mean to go that far, or escalate things.

    Churches can be woefully clueless when it comes to the power, presence and pain of other forms of abuse out there. But “common sense” seems to tell such church leaders that as long as you’re not being beaten, you’re not really suffering? Where is that in the Bible, exactly?

    This is why victims stay silent. I never, ever wonder anymore why we have so much silence around us. There is a very strong and real chance that if you try to share these pearls with anyone, they will get trampled upon. And nothing hurts worse than you offer something as precious and private and personal as your abuse story—-and it’s treated like trash.

    “This is systemic, and you aren’t hearing me.”

    Yes indeed. I too have been trying to listen to people of difference races, sexual orientation or whatnot around me as well. I am a POC, but I think every race has their own distinct form of oppression to share. But we’re just not listening, so the “system” remains, and it only gets worse as long as it is allowed to remain. It is similar to Paul speaking of sin—it goes from bad to worse if it is not dealt with.

    Churches and/or professing Christians are applying what I have heard labeled as “secondary abuse.” They layer on and lawyer up additional pain and suffering whenever someone comes forward with their testimony.

    This is nothing like Christ. I’ve been the blessed recipient of His long and strong arms when I have shed buckets of tears regarding abuse. Never has He justified it, and never has He wavered in His promise that He will avenge me for what I went through. He came to condemn abuse when He died for us, not condone it—-but we are sadly and stupidly finding excuse after excuse to do just that.

    I try to ask Christians if they want to be a product of the world, or a product of the Word. If you don’t know, or if you find yourself unsure as to which arena you belong to—start seeking His face for a serious change of heart. It’s a big deal if you don’t quite know which kingdom you want to belong to, and there are only two to choose from: darkness and light.

    You cannot have one foot in one kingdom, and one foot in the other, but this is what I see churches and professing Christians trying to do.

    “Living totally free, hiding nothing, is not a world I am used to. I am trying to orient myself here. Hiding had gotten comfortable”

    It would take too long to describe my own experiences of abuse and dealing with abusive persons. Both as a believer and an unbeliever, at at different ages and stages in my life. But the result was the same: humiliation. And I carried all of that dead weight, as if I deserved to be burdened with it.

    But I had no reason to feel that way. I had done nothing wrong. When you are targeted, you sadly learn to “take it,” but it is not your fault for being targeted. Yet, we engage in the backwards thinking that if you are targeted, you must have done something wrong.

    Frankly, those doing those awful things should have been ashamed of themselves. They looked and acted ridiculously—taunting and terrifying, ranting and raving, being abusive and apathetic.

    They were center stage, garnering all that negative attention—but the focus was on me as I either stood or sat there. Too afraid to speak and even when I tried to—no one was interested in hearing me. They just wanted to see me suffer.

    But I took on all that humiliation, even though it was not mine to carry. The Lord never, ever says we are responsible for the sins of others—yet it’s common practice for the victim to say “I’m sorry” for being abused or assaulted. I wonder if we will ever come to the point where we acknowledge how ridiculous that sounds to the Lord’s ears? Will we start agreeing with Him, or keep contradicting Him? That will not bode well.

    So hiding becomes quite comfortable, as you spoke of it. I don’t know if shame and pain easily crumbles if and when a victim admits they were victimized—-but it’s a start. One crack in that wall is far better than a solid wall of stone.

    I understand why you kept you pain hidden for so long. Facing it means you face the fact that you are frail, finite, and fragile. When we are abused, we find ways to endure it—-even normalize it (in order to cope and move forward). It’s all about self-preservation—-trying to survive the unthinkable.

    I’m with you, however—you can’t see straight until you get all that pain out of you. And when you can’t see straight, the results can be disastrous. Your mind gets clouded. Signs of your trauma sneak out in little ways, even as you try hard to keep it under wraps.

    I liken it a bit to “throwing up.” No one wants to vomit up what is making their body feel so awful, but once it’s out of you—-you feel so much better. Ready to eat and drink again—and get your strength back. But first you need to admit that you’re sick to your stomach—and something is eating you up inside, keeping you from feeling AND living a whole lot healthier.

    “if pastors continue to pretend pain can be overlooked and go straight to joy”

    This is a big stickler to me. The Bible actually makes me cringe at times when they speak of suffering. They don’t mince words. It is out there in black and white—that this is not a pretty world we live in. Jesus promises joy, but He did make clear that He makes beauty out of ashes. How can we let Him rebuild what was destroyed, if we deny the fact that our world has come crashing down; has become nothing but “ashes?”

    I sometimes wonder if I will ever find my smile again on any sort of consistent basis. Without a doubt—He has found ways to put a smile on my face even for the briefest of moments. I’ll take that! It means He hasn’t left me, when nearly everyone else has. How encouraging is that?

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