Next, I would like to tell you a story. My daughter's partner teaches school. The school where she teaches has a very proactive approach to interpersonal issues. So when they notices that there was a group young boys (5 and 6th grade) who were having particular difficulty with females...especially with females in authority...they took action. They hired a mentor; An ex-military, former policeman, tae kwon do instructor. In other words, they hired a macho role model whose example of respect for women would mean something. He spends time with these kids every day; checks in with them; has them on a point system where they can earn a Friday basketball game with him. The results are very impressive.
Both William Gay and the boys involved in this program are/were statistically highly likely to become men who batter their partners, who engage in domestic violence. But that's not what's happening. I would say that the healing work of the Kingdom of God is moving in both of these situations.
Andrew Sung Park, a Korean theologian, has pointed out that part of the definition of the work of "salvation" is the healing of the deep wounds that people suffer. The Korean word for this is han.
Fred Craddock preached what was, to me, one of the most interesting sermons about this. You can find it here. It's titled Jesus Saves
Having laid this groundwork, what I want to ask is: Are we as the Church at large, and the local congregation engaging in "han" as a part of our sharing the Gospel? Do we see it as an vital part of the message of "salvation"?
Taking this approach to the issues of Domestic Violence and sexual assault that have filled the news cycle lately will call us into a whole different way of being Church:
We will need to listen to and believe the stories of victims. We will be available and attentive to members of our congregations and communities who are experiencing these wounds. We will need to be involved in helping create opportunities for healing from these wounds
We will need to hold people accountable for their behaviors and not ignore or excuse these behaviors because they make us uncomfortable or because the perpetrators are people of popularity or power
We will need to also create opportunities for those who have violated others violently or sexually to change their behaviors (the fancy word is "repentance")
We need to create ways for victims and perpetrators to engage in the work of reconciliation when the time is right and appropriate. (This is a far different thing than sending battered spouses home to be battered again. This is protecting them from abuse and letting them, in due time, make decisions about how far they are willing to go in reconciliation).
Please notice two thing: Sin leads to a cycle of wounding others. Wounded people, who have not healed, are more likely to wound others themselves. It is hear that we see the modern day expression of the scripture that says that, "the parents have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth have been set on edge."
The work of Salvation is so much more than just "my sins are forgiven, I can just sit around and wait for God to snatch me up to heaven when I die," or "my sins are forgiven, I don't need to deal with any of the damage that my sins have caused or the wounds that caused me to sin this way."
The work of Salvation is a process in which "it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose." (Philippians 2:13) Remembering that that good purpose is that "all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. "2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
I found myself asking how this week's news cycle would have been different if this was what we did with reports of violence and abuse. Is this reconciliation part of the alternative story we are telling to the world around us? Is it part of our evangelism? Our sharing of the Gospel story?
What would happen if this became our Lenten theme and focus? How would it change how we listen to and assist victims? How would it impact the ways we deal with perpetrators? Would we become agents of the Reconciliation of God in which God is "hugging the world back to God's self" repairing the breach between neighbor and neighbor and humanity and God? Would the cross take on a deeper meaning for us?
The work of Salvation begins at the separations caused by sin and by deep woundedness. It's goal is the reconciliation of all creation. Let it be so. AMEN