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Friday, September 19, 2014

Abuse

    At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap,  in order to have a basis for accusing him.
    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
    When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone  at her.”  
-John 8:2-7 (NIV)


A confession: I like football. I watch the NFL. I even had Adrian Peterson on one of my fantasy teams this year.    
    I suppose liking the NFL is something that sort of needs to be apologized for after the last couple of weeks.
    I think the majority of NFL players are decent  guys, model citizens, good husbands and fathers. But it isn’t those guys who the media have been talking about lately. It’s a few others, guys who have hurt wives and children, who are dominating the coverage on not just ESPN, but NBC and CNN as well. We’ve seen videos and photos and police reports, heard press conferences and statements. The league and its owners have lurched wildly through slapping the wrists of the players involved, to indefinite suspensions, to letting them play, to barring them from any team activities. And that’s just this week.
    What seems to be clear is that domestic violence in the NFL, like domestic violence in society at large, is a much bigger issue than most of us seem to think, for two reasons. First, as the NFL has shown us, it’s easy to cover up. It’s easy to frame it as something else, to pretend that it’s about an argument that got out of hand. It’s easy to blame the victim, to wonder out loud why she would stay with the guy who hurts her, why she would marry the guy who knocked her out in an elevator. It’s easy to make noise about how children need discipline. It’s easy to hide the bruises and scars under expensive children’s clothes. Children’s voices are small, after all, and easily silenced by the threat, implied or explicit, of more violence.
    Beyond that, though, are the cases we don’t know about. What worries me about the last two weeks’ NFL scandals is not the known perpetrators and victims. The players responsible may have played their last games in the NFL. They’ll have to answer for their crimes, and maybe will get help to stop the cycle of violence. The victims will, hopefully, get some help as well, and go on with their lives. What really worries me is the victims who didn’t make the news cycles this week, who weren’t beaten by celebrity athletes and so haven’t captured our attention. There are a lot more of them, both inside and outside of the NFL.
    It may be that as many as 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in 3 women who are victims of homicide are murdered by a current or former partner. That’s a lot of victims who are never rescued, a lot of women, children, and yes, men as well, who have nowhere to turn for help. A lot of victims who can do nothing but resolve to try harder to please their abusers, or leave and face even greater violence and a future of homelessness and fear.
    Some of these unknown victims are in your circles. They work with you, go to school with you, go to your church, live on your block. They’re your kids’ friends, other parents in the PTA, that lady at the Seniors Center who you exchange pleasantries with. They bring your food and ring up your groceries, but they also care for your health and invest your money. They’re good at hiding the signs of abuse, and so the wrongs done to them often go unseen, unrecognized, unresolved.
    They’re like that woman brought to Jesus by a mob of scheming, mocking men — religious leaders. They came to Jesus with what they presented as a case of jurisprudence: “in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” In reality, they couldn’t care less about this woman or her violation of the law. You hear the contempt in their voices — “such women.” They have a category for this woman, and she fits so neatly inside that they don’t even see her. She’s an object lesson. She’s a religious debate. She’s bait for a trap they’re waiting to spring.
    They never see her. She’s a woman who’s made some bad choices, but she doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s receiving at their hands. They don’t know why she’s done what she’s done, and they couldn’t care less, because they don’t see a person at all. I doubt they really intend to stone her, but I don’t think it matters to them whether she lives or dies. She’s alone, helpless, and afraid.
    At least until Jesus does what he does.
    I’ve always wondered what he wrote in the dust. Some folks say it was the names of the accusers, as in Jeremiah 17:13. Maybe. But what seems more important is what he said, and what he accomplished by saying it. When Jesus reminded the woman’s accusers of their own sins, they realized that they and that woman weren’t in different categories after all.
    Jesus took her side. Though there were undoubtedly things in her life that she couldn’t be proud of, he still took her side. And in taking her side he forced her accusers to see her as a human being, not a cautionary tale.
    Even people who follow Jesus have, from time to time, been on the wrong side of the domestic violence problem. We’ve kept the secrets that allowed domestic abuse to occur. We’ve quoted “spare the rod and spoil the child,” and encouraged women to go back to abusive husbands and just “try to be a better wife.” We’ve counseled abused partners against divorce when divorce might be the only thing that would save their lives. We haven’t wanted to believe it could happen among us, and so have allowed the abuse to continue.  
    May we instead see victims of domestic violence as, indeed, victims. But not just as victims: may we see them as human beings loved by God, in need of redemption like the rest of us, but in no way to blame for or deserving of what they’ve suffered. May we have eyes to see suffering, especially when it’s hidden, and hearts big enough to ask questions and offer help. May we have the courage to stand against those who would abuse others, whoever they are.

    Hopefully, the NFL is finally seeking to address this issue. As people who follow Jesus, we must always stand for the conviction that any abuse of human beings is against the will of God. Jesus accepted the abuse of his own body, spilled his own blood, for the promise of a world in which no one else need ever suffer abuse, not one more drop of human blood need be spilled. To whatever extent abuse happens in our world, we still wait for God’s kingdom. To whatever extent abuse happens, may we oppose it and work to end it. Not because a few celebrities got caught. But because Our Lord would have it no other way.

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