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by Cindy Felkel, Guest Blogger

A friend sent me a picture (of a little boy praying in front of pictures of missing children) this past Sunday morning. When I saw the picture, I burst into tears.

See, all week, I’ve been processing information I heard at a seminar put on by the Underground of Ct., where they talked about the realities of domestic minor sex trafficking.

In this seminar, they covered statistics about how much it happens in Connecticut. One of the speakers drove home the point that the men who are paying tons of money to abuse youth in our neighborhoods are mostly middle class white married men with good jobs. They are our neighbors and leaders in our communities. They are hiding in plain sight because no one is suspicious of them.

Another speaker at this seminar was a survivor of sex trafficking. She spoke about the importance of being seen. She said that when she was trafficked, she only thought of herself as a body, an object to be used. It was being seen as a whole person of value that led her out of the abuse.

This beautiful young survivor sells t-shirts which say, “You are seen”.

With each t-shirt, she gives people a postcard which says, “Whether you got this t-shirt to remind yourself you are not alone, or to remind others, both are equally important. Darkness thrives in its ability to hide, but you have the ability to acknowledge that it has been seen and the power to not walk away. As a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking, I wear this shirt in remembrance of one simple healing truth:

If there is only one thing you could offer someone in need, let it be your willingness to stay.

The glaring message that I walked away from this seminar with was the need to really see the people around me.

praying for missing children facebook

I also left with a nagging sense of the reality of how much the two biggest so- called Christian institutions in our country, the Catholic church and the Southern Baptist convention, have perpetuated systems of covering up abuse*.

The very next day, I read this quote from Brené Brown’s book Dare to LeadPerhaps the most devastating sign of a shame infestation is a cover-up. Cover-ups are perpetrated not only by the original actors, but by a culture of complicity and shame… When the culture of a corporation, nonprofit, university, government, CHURCH, sports program, school or family mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of that system and those in power than it is to protect the human dignity of individuals or communities, you be certain of the following problems:

Shame is systemic
Complicity is part of the culture
Money and power trump ethics
Accountability is dead
Control and fear are management tools
And there’s a trail of devastation and pain”
pg 135

Sadly, this describes much of what has been happening in American church culture a little too well. I know so many of the stories of people who have been hurt. As sickening and devastating as those stories are, I also know that they represent only the tip of the iceberg.

It is no wonder we have a culture of middle-class white men committing unspeakable abuse against our children and supporting a $10.5 billion industry. When our church culture became about building the individual kingdoms of dynamic leaders, the religious culture of America made shame so much the norm that I doubt there is any life in America right not that has not been negatively impacted by it.

And those perpetrators? That’s totally a result of shame and inadequacy in their own lives. No one abuses others without dehumanizing them and without a need to use others to fill voids in their own lives. It’s a shame cycle that is devastating our country.

As I processed all of these things, I felt like I was almost in a state of shock. The reality of what was happening in our country,

Then, on Sunday, when my friend sent me that picture, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley where he said, “When what’s best for people is no longer what’s most important to you, you are at odds with God.”

As I sat there crying, ridiculously, it all came together for me.

If we don’t care about the healing of the individuals who have been abused by and because of church culture, and the shame culture so prevalent in America, I completely believe that we are at odds with God.

Our young people don’t need us to get better at sharing our theology or making sermons more attractive. They don’t even need us to pass more government programs or less or whatever politics you fool yourself into believing is going to change things. Nothing can bring people out of the darkness except seeing them.

They need to be seen. They need to be cared for.

That is the job of people who are following Jesus. That is what Jesus taught.

Forgive me for all the times I don’t see.

Blessings,

Cindy (rumandcolaforthesoul.com)

*I’m aware that there is abuse happening in other denominations and religions. I have only witnessed the abuse and heard the stories from these two cultures. I grew up going to Southern Baptist churches and I live in a predominately Catholic area. My adamant belief is based on anecdotal evidence and informal research into what others have written. However, I stand firm in that is obvious when leaders cover up abuse and allow victims to be shamed, the influence of the shame culture they model extends far beyond the incidents we hear about in the news. It impacts every person in that church and all the people the religious elite have labeled less important than their vision.

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