In their engaging, sad, and highly personal reflection on sexual abuse in the evangelical church, Marci Preheim and Sarah Taras comment:
If abuse requires silence, deception, and wordsmithing to flourish, then the way to kill it is to bring it into the light.
I can’t tell from reading their post whether that was an intentional or accidental reference to the recent Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight, but it certainly made me think of it.
For some time my friend and fellow pastor Mike had urged me to see Spotlight. I resisted mainly because I was certain that my movie-going partner, my wife, would not want to see it. I think, though, as well, that a part of me just does not want to be made to feel uncomfortable. And that, for sure, is a problem that is shared by too many.
I was surprised to discover that my wife, in fact, WANTED to see the movie, and we were both glad we did. Spotlight is far and away one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time.
In the first place, it is simply a well told story. It follows the journalistic efforts that uncovered the scope of the sex-abuse scandal in Boston telling that story with energy and passion. The film is well paced, sustaining interest from the beginning until the end. Unlike many movies, I did not stop to consider the time. I was engaged the full length of the film.
The movie was written and directed by Tom McCarthy who has been a favorite of mine for a long time. (If you’ve not seen The Visitor, put that one on your list, as well.) This movie is his best.
I was particularly impressed with the acting of Mark Ruffalo. His “it could have been me” speech about 3/4 of the way through was one of the best sustained monologues that I can recall having seen.
The topic is handled deftly and without making it solely a problem of the Catholic Church. That’s important because the abuse of children and the protection of the abusers is NOT a Catholic issue. It may have found a home there, and the sheer size of the church magnifies the scale of the problem, but this is shamefully a problem in Protestant churches as well as the article referenced at the beginning makes clear. The value of a spotlight is that the hidden things must be brought to light, and the light must never be shut off, no matter how uncomfortable we are with what it exposes.
The film is honest enough to say that it was not simply the church that allowed this to go on for so long. There is a human complacency that settles upon us all. We don’t like boats that are rocking, and we don’t want to be the ones doing the rocking. Blame is spread far enough to make us all look deeply at the issues of which we are even now aware, but don’t want to engage. Abuse? Abortion? Poverty? Sexual slavery and trafficking?
It is so often easier, to our shame, to simply close our eyes.
The movie forces us to open our eyes, but is never heavy handed in doing so. One leaves the theater strangely hopeful and blessed for having spent the time.
Spotlight is not likely to be in theaters much longer. If you have not seen it, and cannot see it in theaters, it is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
I appreciate your willingness to address ‘the elephant in the room’. This is huge!
You make an excellent point, that abuse is not a Catholic issue, but rather a problem in Protestant churches as well. Whether is it physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse, our churches, and our country, is filled with it. I think it has become a problem within the church for several reasons, it is rarely addressed, predators have unsupervised access to children, parents are blind to the facts, (or they ignore them) and when predators do confess, members are not informed of the potential threat. I also believe that we tend to turn off our ‘intuitions’ and so the signs go undetected. If we did happen to suspect something suspicious, we would probably ignore it in the belief that God will protect our children, or that we shouldn’t think bad thoughts about our fellow brothers/sisters. Sadly, the abuse goes on and it takes years before the victims come forward, usually after much anguish and turmoil of feeling like perhaps it was their fault. Even more pathetic is the fact that when they finally come forward, they are met by leaders who want to cover it up. Leaders inflict additional damage by reinforcing the fact that it must have been something they had done to cause the person to ‘lust’ after them. In the countless cases I have known, when the abuse was exposed, the emphasis was to ‘love’ and ‘forgive’ the abuser. Oddly, those who preach unconditional love and forgiveness for all, withdrew from the victim, leaving them helpless and hurting. I personally have NEVER seen where the ‘victim’ was wrapped in love and supported. Actually, I have NEVER seen where the victim was shown the ‘grace’ that the abuser was shown, but rather the opposite. This results in a victim wondering why God abandoned them and why the church abandoned them. The scars are carried throughout their life.
The thing about being abused, is that you know the signs and you can sense a predator almost upon first observance. Perhaps the awareness helps by saving a victim or two. I think predators know when someone can see through them. Perhaps we should all tune into our intuitions and be more vigilant. I don’t think Christ would stand silently by while predators attacked the children he loved so much, nor do I think he would have been silent at the men/women who abuse either verbally or physically.
Thank you for reminding us that we must not get complacent and that we must address these issues. I am grateful for Marci Preheim and Sarah Taras, and for movies like “Spotlight’ that bring about awareness. I am very grateful that you are willing to bring to light the ‘hidden’ things. I appreciate your transparency for it says to every victim that there is someone who cares, and someone who will be their advocate. This is a tremendous aid in their healing process.
Some alarming stats below.
“Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.” -National Child Abuse Hotline