Hot off the trails of the Kavanaugh hearings, even sexual assault has become a polarized issue, with many immediately believing the accused or the accuser. However, this response doesn’t serve the mission of the Church. Justin Holcomb, Episcopal priest and sexual assault survivor, encourages us to engage with these accusations in a Christ like manner.
“The first thing that I think the church needs to do is realize that its identity is found in the person and work of Jesus.”
“So when the Kavanaugh hearings happened, it was very sad to me. Now I’m not I’m not arguing for one side or the other, I’m taking this as an opportunity to reflect on it. What was disheartening was how many Christians that I know sounded first like either Republicans or Democrats. Their Christian identity didn’t seem to influence much of the conversation.”
“They spoke like political side takers, not members of the Kingdom of God.”
“That was just disheartening because the Church should be the place that is the example of how vulnerable people are treated. The Church should pay attention to how Jesus responded to those who are marginalized and outcast. He had His harshest words for the Pharisees and the religious. His tender words are for those that are marginalized.”
That’s not to say that one should immediately believe, or dismiss, Dr. Ford. It is disappointing to see battle lines being drawn over a case that had no evidence on either side. The way the whole situation was handled was nothing short of a circus, and Justin hopes that accusations in the church will be handled differently. But what would that look like?
“It would look like two different things: mercy and justice. It doesn’t mean victim advocacy. It looks like an investigation and if you find out that abuse has taken place, then it looks like mercy for that person who’s abused and seeking justice for the person that has abused.”
“There been studies that have asked survivors: what is the most helpful thing that has been done in response to you telling your story to someone? Was it the counseling? The pursuit of justice? The number one answer every single time is: Being listened to, and believed.”
“Christians can be encouraged that you don’t have to have a masters in counseling, you don’t have to be a pastor, to be an agent of great news. One of the most important things you can do is listen to someone and believe them, which means just looking at them and saying ‘I’m so sorry that that happened. Thank you for having the courage to actually say that out loud.’ Actually showing that you’re listening and believing, then physically articulating that is really helpful.”
Sexual assault accusations are so difficult to prosecute because they are often private, with no witnesses, and no physical evidence. It’s often a “he said, she said” argument with life changing consequences.
Thus the church needs to be the leading haven of hope in this broken situation. We must take accusations seriously, because if real, the victim has been deeply wounded. We must pray for guidance, and truth in these awful circumstances, providing hope for the victims, and fair trial for the accused.
Justin Holcomb is Justin is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. Justin holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University.Justin Holcomb - Serving our Survivors