What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce. – Mark Twain
Mr. Weinstein was a watershed. When sexual harassment allegations avalanched into the #MeToo campaign, it eclipsed October as Domestic Violence Month. Then the dam broke with accusations against Mr.’s Moore, Rose, Lauer and Keillor. An Advent of another kind, it shined a flashlight on gender violence in America. Hollywood spoke like a herald holding offenders accountable. But silence surrounded churches like a shroud.
Forty years ago this month, Ms. Magazine wrote about sexual harassment for the first time. Then 1977, the term sexual harassment had no legal definition and had barely entered the public lexicon. Still, it sounded hauntingly familiar. Like all forms of abuse, its underlying dynamic is power and privilege. Although men experience sexual harassment too, “the typical victims are young females holding a lower-rank job in a male-dominated environment. The harassers, on the other hand, are predominantly males who work at the same or higher hierarchical level. (Brown, 2016).
Sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender based abuse. Nationally, almost a third of women (31.5 percent), will experience physical violence of some form in a lifespan. Nearly half of all women (47.1 percent) will be subject to psychological aggression from a partner (CDC, 2014). Globally speaking, women from 15 to 44 are more likely to be injured or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war combined” (Vlachova & Biason, 2005).
Honor killings, sexual slavery, and genital cutting may seem to Western readers to be tragic but inevitable in a world far, far away. But sexual harassment in Hollywood hits closer to home. It invites us into the storyline like Jesus’ parables. It begs the question why women can sit on the Supreme Court and run for President in the US, while being victims of gender based oppression by powerful men in high places. It confronts us with another side of the coin: Why did black men have voting rights a full 50 years before women? And why is the US only 1 of 7 United Nations Members in a rooster of 194, that have not ratified the women’s bill of rights instituted at the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1987? Is gender equality a myth?
Co-Authors and Pulitzer Prize winners, Nicholas Kristof and Cheryl WuDunn believe so: “In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world” (xvii). Their thesis is not new. Like racism was once seen by decent Americans as regrettable but unescapable, gender equality is viewed the same way. While we don’t see icons like Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr igniting the cause, we do see women speaking up and a seed sprouting into a global movement to emancipate women and girls. Which is why the World Health Organization espouses that “the best practice for preventing assault against women “s promoting gender equality” (2010).
Given the scope of the Weinstein scandal surpassing the Catholic Crisis and now a click moment in history, how can the church stay silent? We’ve rallied for gay rights, lent our voices to legislation for prison reform, and protested passionately because Black Lives Matter. Yet, churches seems speechless in the face of all forms of abuse. Trauma expert Judith Herman suggests, “when events are acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when they’re by human design, those bearing witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to be neutral. The bystander is forced to take sides. And the perpetrator only asks that we say nothing and do nothing. See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.”
Hollywood holds up a mirror. She picks up a megaphone. Time Magazine has named her Silence Breakers the “Person of the Year.” Not looking away, they started believing what victims say, and are holding offenders accountable. Disgusted with exposure, many high profile people have spoken publicly to the press. Accordingly a recent poll taken by the Associated Press (NORC Center for Public Affairs Research), a mob mentality is forming. Seventy five percent of Americans believe sexual harassment is a problem in this country (Editorial, 2017). The morals displayed on cable TV’s Mad Men are no longer in vogue. The public won’t take it anymore. And neither should the church.
In sum, Weinstein’s watershed is more than a click moment. It’s is a moral reckoning. A kind of advent within Advent, that shines a light into a dark world. Jesus did that when he came to earth 2,000 years ago. He challenged the religious and societal rules of a male-dominated culture. No peace keeper, he was a silence breaker. When other rabbis thought it improper to teach women the Bible, Jesus called Mary to learn at His feet. While other religious leaders refused to go near bleeding women, Jesus healed one. Though Pharisees shunned Samaritans and women who were divorced, Jesus drew a line in the sand and dared her self-righteous accusers to cast the first stone.
While some interpret the scriptures to oppress and restrict women, Jesus liberates women. How can we do what Jesus did? For starters, we can believe women’s stories. We can name their experience. Martin Luther argued that a “theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is” (Heidelberg Disputation). Putting a name to a thing is a way to dismantle the crippling power of oppression. We can support victims by educating our congregation. We can pray prayers and preach sermons to raise awareness about all forms of abuse. We can learn bystander interventions instead of standing silently by. American’s of faith need to not only change laws, but change hearts. When Christ came in Advent, he treated people equally as created in God’s image. He reconciled us to God, ourselves and one another calling us one. Not by homogeneity nor hierarchy, but by loving one another enough to embrace diversity. St. Paul summarizes: “Christ himself is our Peace—making the two one—-breaking down every wall” (Ephesians 2:14).
Bennett, J. (2017, Nov 5). “The click moment: How the Weinstein scandal unleashed a tsunami.” New York Times.
Brown, A. (Updated 2016, Oct 15). “What does the evidence tell us about sexual harassment in the workplace?, IZA World of Labor. .
Breiding, M; et al. (2011). “Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization” — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Editorial. (10.12.17). The Daily News, “What the Weinstein debacle says about harassment in America.”
Hermann, J. (1997). Trauma and Recovery. The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Trauma, 7. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books.
Kristoff, N., WuDunn, C. (2009). Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Vlachova, M; Biason, L.,eds. (2005). Women in an insecure world: Violence against women: Facts, figures and analysis—Executive Summary. Geneva: Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 1232–1237.
World Health Organization (2010) Violence prevention: The evidence. Series of briefings on violence prevention.
"Mental Health Awareness Month" has been observed in May here in the United States since 1949. Here's a tool kit to for faith based commities to raise awareness in their houses of worship http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may
, from "Mental Health America."
Because there are so many 'awareness months' to remember, it can become cliche. Keeping the cause fresh, I decided to re-watch the movie “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Produced over 50 years ago, this Pulitzer prize winner reflects real time themes of racism, violence and gender roles. But what struck me most on my first watch was the stigma of mental illness. Like the Gerasene demoniac who was chained, cared for in a cemetery and lived outside city limits, Boo Radley was shunned and lived in the shadows of this story-line. No ordinary Mockingbird who mimics another birdsong, Boo sung to his own beat because he had a mental illness.
As a a psychotherapist in the seventies, I worked with people like Boo Radley. Motivated by mood-managing drugs, The Community Mental Health Act (1963) mainstreamed patients from institutions and returned them to the community. On the surface this seemed like a good idea. Returning patient’s power, reuniting them with families and mingling with the public was a way to normalize mental health conditions. But it failed. Most families I worked with north of Boston didn’t want relatives back. And 24-hour Dunkin Dounut shops and CVS pharmacies didn’t want to become known as a “community center" for mental health conditions. "It’s not good for business,” they said. Sadly, systemic silence, shaming, shunning and stigma still surrounds mental illness today. Both in society and religious sanctuaries.
What is mental illness? Defined by governmental gold standard NIMH (National Institute for Mental Health), it’s a “functional impairment” that can range from mild to serious that “substantially interferes with or limits, one or more major life activities” (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml
). NAMI (National Association for Mental Illness), America’s largest grassroots mental health organization says it simpler: “A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person's thinking, feeling or mood and can effect one’s ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis” (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions
). For warning signs see http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs.
The causes of mental health conditions are layered and complex. Genetics, environment, brain chemistry and traumatic life events are all pieces of the puzzle.
According to SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) latest report (February, 2014), 1 in 5 Americans struggle with mental illness. That’s about 42.5 million American adults, or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the US (http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608
). Because the church is embedded in society, credible statistics suggests that these same rates of mental illness cut across faith communities. According to U of L psychiatrist Robert Frierson, these are common mental health conditions clergy are likely to see:
An advocate for mental illness for 25 years, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter summarizes the scope of the problem and calls us to take action: “People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations and families. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries of help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”
Heeding Carter’s call, United Methodist minister Susan Gregg-Schroeder founded Mental Health Ministries
with a vision of producing high quality resources to reduce the stigma of mental illness in faith communities. At a conference last year (Understanding Mental Illness and Offering Hope: A Perspective for Clergy
), we were given this excellent resource guide that you can download here: http://www.mentalhealthministries.net/resources/study_guide.html)
According to scholarly research studies, Gregg-Schroeder was on point to provide high quality resources for clergy. A study in the sixties showed that 42 percent of those seeking help for emotional problems sought it from clergy (Gurin, et al; 1960). But more recent research (Wang, et al; 2003) reduces the rate to 23.5 by the early nineties (ibid). Though clergy still play a crucial role in the mental health delivery system, this study raises concern about religious having adequate training to recognize/treat mental health issues and little awareness of how to make referrals to professionals who do. In a growing climate of evidence based practices that are proven most effect for mental health conditions, these concerns are only heightened.
Now a therapist for over 25 years who’s also been a parish minster for 14, I agree with the research: Most religious leaders aren’t equipped to recognize and treat or refer mental disorders. Add to this the likelihood that over 2/3 (66%) of pastors don’t even “speak to the church in sermons or large group messages about mental illness” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/stigma-of-mental-illness-still-real-inside-the-church-lifeway-research-reveals-126832/
). Still, I believe that religious leaders can do what professional therapists can’t: Pray with people, Include their needs in worship. Embrace them in a faith community. Sit with them in dark places. Listen to their stories. Stories are transformative. I felt that power when Rev. Sarah Lund’s told her story at a workshop entitled Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness
at The 30th General Synod of United Church of Christ.
* After sharing her testimony she turned to the attendees and asked us to tell our story, too. No longer strangers. We were one.
In a real sense that’s what Harper Lee’s character Scout dared to do with Boo Radley. She heard his story and walked in his shoes. She was brave enough to look him in the eye, grip his hand and walk with him down a small street in Southern Alabama. With her actions she was bearing witness to his story. It didn’t make the suffering go away. But in the same way that Jesus raised the status of a Gerasene demoniac, Scout changed the stigma on Boo Radley’s back. Telling our stories is important. Because "if I tell it anywhere right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours (Buechner, 11).
Buechner, F. Telling Secrets. New York, NY: Harper.
Carter, R. (1990). A voice for the voiceless. The church and the mentally ill; second opinion: The church’s challenge in health care. Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics, (45-46).
Gurin, G., Veroff, F., Feld, S. (1960). Americans View Their Mental Health: A Nationwide Survey. New York, NY: Basic.
Lee, H. (1960). To Kill A Mockingbird. New York, NY: Grand Central.
Lund, S. (2014). Blessed Are the Crazy. St. Louis, MO: Chalice.
Understanding mental illness and offering hope: A perspective for clergy. (2014, Nov 13). Norton Healthcare Church and Health Ministries.
Wang, P., Berglund, P., Kessler, R. (2003; April). Patterns and correlates of contacting clergy for mental disorders in the United States; 38(2): 647-673.
- Rev. Alan Johnson, a co-founder of the interfaith Network on Mental Illness and chair of the UCC Mental Health Network co-led Break the Silence about Mental Illness with Sarah Lund. At the 30 General Synod of the United Christ a resolution was passed “calling the people of God to justice for people with serious mental illnesses (brain disorders).” For more information and resources for your church please visit http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/resolution_20.html
Credible statistics report that 702,000 children are abused in this country every year. That would pack more than 10 modern football stadiums. Globally and in US, child sexual abuse is a hidden epidemic. Unlike racism, gun control, evironmental issues and gender identity, its seldom spoken of. Still, its a justice issue of epic proportion.
Though we tend to lump all kinds of abuse under one rubric, its important to tease it apart. There’s 4 kinds: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. For more click:
Since the scope of this article is sexual abuse, here’s a clear definition:
Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other. Forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyerism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet. A crime punishable by law. (D2L, 9).
Studies show that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Townsend, 2013). Ninety percent know their abuser (Finkelhor, 2012). That needs to sink it. It debunks the idea of stranger-danger. Add to that the shame factor, fear, or family loyalty and we see why victims seldom say anything. Neither do adults. Organizations don’t recognize the signs, refuse to report to authorities and become complicit to cover up scandal. The silence is so systemic that legal scholars are beginning to call child sexual abuse “a crime against humanity” (Groome, 2011).
Heres some little known facts about child sexual abuse:
- 60% of abusers are non-relatives like family friends, babysitters and neighbors
- 30% of abusers are family members like parents, siblings, uncles and aunts
- 10% (only) of abusers are strangers
- Men are more likely to abuse children, but women (14%) do it too
Sadly child sexual abuse has life altering effects. Child victims who don't receive treatment grow up to become adult survivors. Since few professionals make meaningful linkages, focus becomes bifurcated targeting only prevention or treatment. Layering yet another lens on an already complex trauma, child sexual abuse is a crime involving legal authorities, not only advocates and clinicians. Telling stories over and again and not being believed only retraumatizes people.
Since trauma is held in the body more than the mind, there can be multiple health issues. For instance, did you know that Ischemic heart disease (IHD), Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease and other health-related quality of life issues are tied to child abuse (Brown, 2009)? Sexually abused children are also more likely to experience the following: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Kilpatrick, et al, 2003), anxiety and depression (Dube, et al, 2005); Rohde, et al, 2008), Substance abuse (Simpson & Miller, 2002), Sexual promiscuity (Noll, et al, 2003) and Suicide (Waldrop, et al, 2007).
If you're a faith leader as I once was, its important to realize that churches aren't immune. Though I worked with abuse in the Middlesex County Court during the 80’s and again with the Governor’s Round Table in the 90’s (both in MA), I was unprepared to encounter child sexual abuse in the church. The Catholic Crisis in 2002, was a wake up call for most clergy despite denomination or faith affiliation.
In fact, credible statistics suggest that child sexual abuse cuts across evey race, religion and socioeconomic class. Some research suggests that faith communities are even more vulnerable than the secular arena. One study shows that 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as "religious" (http://www.cmrpi.org/pdfs/study.pdf
) and tend to have more victims. The words of a convicted child molester in an interview with Dr. Ana Salter suggests why this is so: “I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”
If you feel naive about child sexual abuse you’re not alone. It’s a complex problem with multiple layers. Few are experts. That said, It’s highly likely that someone you know or care for, has or is experiencing child sexual abuse. If you’re a faith leader who works with children, It’s going to happen whether you are prepared to deal with it or not. Because you are a front line responder.
Beyond boundary training and safe church policies it’s critical for faith leaders to learn the facts, minimize the opportunity, see the signs and act restoratively. None of us wants to stand by and watch another person victimize a child. Nobody should be victimized while we stand by and watch. When a child discloses, when we discover abuse or have reason to suspect it, we must act. This is less about litigation and a legal duty to report. More, its a moral imperative to stand up for children. When we call ourselves sanctuaries we assume a posture of public trust. When we open our doors we put our integrity on the line to safeguard children.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. As a facilitator of the nationally renowned (evidence informed) Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children,
I’m standing with adult survivors and asking you to commit to hosting or attending a Stewards of Children,
2.5 hour training to empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse. You'll hear from survivors, experts and people like yourself. You will also receive an interactive work book to make a personal plan or begin a policy for your church, organization or seminary Click for a quick preview: http://www.d2l.org/education/stewards-of-children/
. See my website at www.beverlyweinhold.org
or call me at 502.690.5733. Let's talk about it.
“Collector of Fragments, we are broken now. Fragmented are simple expectations. Fragmented are life-giving hopes. Fragmented are ligaments of faith. How good are you at finding, cleaning, mending pieces of our lives? The dismembered, disoriented and dislocated need to know. Please mend well what others have shattered. Please forgive through us where our strength has run out. But, in Your mending and healing work, leave some cracks for memorial: Of where we came from. Of how You gathered us. Of how You cradle the majestically broken. We pray in the name of Your Majestic Broken One,” Amen. ~ by Andrew J. Schmutzer
Dr. Rev. Beverly Weinhold
Brown, et. al, (2009). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of premature mortality. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 37 (5).
Darkness to Light, (2013). Interactive Workbook. Stewards of Children, 9.
Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.
Groome, D. (2011). The church abuse scandal: Were crimes against humanity committed?
Chicago Journal of International Law: 11: 2, 20.
Noll, J.G., et al. (2003). A prospective investigation of the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the development of sexuality. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 575-586.
Kilpatrick, D.G., et al. (2003). Violence and risk of PTSD, major depression, substance abuse/dependence, and comorbidity: Results from the Nat’l Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 692-700.
Rhode,P., et al. (2008). Associations of child sexual abuse with obesity and depression in middle-aged women: A national survey. Child Maltreatment, 4, 187-200.
Salter, A., (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders : Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.
Simpson, T.L. & Miller, W.R. (2002). Concomitance between childhood sexual and physical abuse and substance use problems. A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 22, 27-77.
Waldrop, A.E., et al. (2007). Risk factors for suicidal behavior among a national sample of adolescents: Implications for prevention. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 869-879.
Whealin, J. (2007.5.22). Child sexual abuse. National Center for PTSD, US Dept of VA.
Moral Injury as a Soul Wound: A Cry to Faith Communities
“What sometimes happens in war [trauma] may more accurately be called a moral injury — a deep soul wound that pierces a person’s identity, sense of morality and relationship to society.”
Counseling professionals, health care providers and chaplains are using with more frequency the phrase moral injury. While originating with combat veterans, it can be equally applied to survivors of rape, abuse and trauma. Beyond a traumatic event, moral injury is a soul wound or a spiritual crisis. And precisely for that reason, clinicians confess to few interventions for recovery causing them to call upon faith communities to respond to this sacred wound.
Attending a recent conference considering best practices for caring for veterans and their families, Chaplain Major Kerry Wentworth defined moral injury as damage done to our “core values, conscience or moral compass.” Moral injury strikes at the heart of a person’s identity. For example: “participating in giving orders in combat that result in injury or death, failing to provide medical aid to someone whose been wounded or following orders that are illegal or immoral, etc.” Psychologists, Litz et al. (2009) deepen this description defining moral injury as “the inability to contextualize or justify personal actions or the actions of others alongside the unsuccessful accommodation of these experiences into pre-existing moral schemas” (p. 705). Veteran Affairs psychiatrist Jonathan Shay who likely coined the term summarizes saying “moral injury is a betrayal of what is right leading to lifelong injury” (1994, 20).
Moral injury is distinguished over and against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Again, in Shay’s words: “PTSD is more like the wound of war, while moral injury is more like an infection in the wound.” Extending the analogy he warns that an infection is more dangerous than the original wound “because its not often detected and not easily treated (2010).” Nuancing it more some say that PTSD is fear based while moral injury is guilt and shame based (Antal and Winnings, 2015). Deepening the spiritual connection, Diane Silver calls moral injury “a deep soul wound that pierces a person’s identity, sense of morality and relationship to society” (2011, 6). As such its not just about how an event impacts the psyche, but how a society, family or faith community sees and supports the person impacted. Therefore, healing happens not only on a therapist’s couch or even in a military chaplain’s office, but within a safe faith community.
Underlining the role of community, Georgetown University ethics professor Nancy Sherman
heard stories of moral injury when she interviewed veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and World War II for her book, The Untold War
. “Regret,” she writes, “doesn’t begin to capture what the soldiers I talked with feel. It doesn’t capture the despair or depth of the feeling — the awful weight of self-indictment and the need to make moral repair in order to be allowed back into the community in which he feels he has somehow jeopardized his standing (https://psmag.com/beyond-ptsd-soldiers-have-injured-souls-69ec55cbe65#.lmcttmidz
Seeing moral injury as a soul wound is significant. Not only because it calls faith communities to reflect and respond, but because it shifts the problem from a medical model with a mental health diagnosis to a spiritual crisis. And since medical professionals admit they can’t adequately address moral injury, they’re reaching out to religious leaders to reflect on moral repair. Chaplain Major Kerry Wentworth concluded his presentation, Finding Faith After Moral Injuries with a plea: “We have few interventions. I’m looking to those of you here today to offer some answers.”
Some in the audience suggested doing service, random acts of kindness, self-compassion and forgiveness as pathways toward healing. But what’s been shown to be most effective in treating moral injury is group therapy. Veterans and service members communicating with others who have experienced similar injuries tend to have more agency to give voice to their struggle. The San Diego Naval Medical Center uses this therapy technique in its moral injury/moral repair program, which is the first of its kind. In the program, participants become safe with one another before sharing their stories. Group members are then encouraged to provide support to one another by refraining from judging their peers or excusing them. The goal, according to program psychiatrists, is for the participants to accept that wrong was done, but to also understand it and learn how to deal with it (http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/moral-injury
Small groups with trained leaders who cultivate safety and practice deep listening to sufferer’s stories seems like a good place to begin for faith communities. To writer Margaret Wheatley’s point: “All we need to do is listen. Not judge, not recommend, not fix. Just listen, bearing witness, keeping our hearts open (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/speakingoursuffering.html
). Perhaps, the practice of cultivating safety and becoming good listeners makes it possible for people to heal themselves. The following story suggests that:
During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa, many of those who testified to the atrocities they had endured under apartheid spoke of being healed by their own testimony because they knew the nation was listening. A young man who had been blinded when a policeman shot him in the face at close range said: "I feel what has brought my eyesight back is to come here and tell the story. I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn't tell my story. But now it feels like I've got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story” (ibid).
Coming from a Christian perspective, I believe in a God who listens and invites us to bear witness to one another. Perhaps that’s what can best be offered by churches in such circumstances: cultivating safety, listening deeply and bearing witness to moral injury. Reflecting more broadly, moral injury isn’t only about the wounds of war, but rape, trauma and all forms of abuse. When persons tell their stories and are silenced, shunned or stigmatized we reinjure rather than repair. Cultivating sanctuary to share our stories without judgement, advice, moral platitudes or feeling the need to tell our own might bring efficacious repair. Summarizing in the words of Parker Palmer, “The soul doesn’t want to be fixed. In fact it flees and hides when pursued by a fixer. The soul wants only to be welcomed, heard and attended to by people who are willing to offer simple hospitality (1999,14). Sanctuary is critical. Listening is key. No doubt the Spirit of God will bring all else that needs to be at the Table.
Antal, C. & Winings, K. (2015). Moral injury, soul repair and creating a space for grace. Journal for Religious Education, 110 (4). 382-394.
Brock, R & Lettini, (2012). Soul repair, recovering from moral injury after war. Boston, MA: Beacon.
Litz,et al. (2009). Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans. A preliminary intervention strategy. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, (8). 695-706.
Palmer, Parker (1999). The courage to teach guide for reflection and renewal. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
Silver, D. (9.1.11). Beyond PTSD soldiers have injured souls. Pacific Standard.
Thompson, M. (9.2.11). “Could PTSD really be post traumatic soul disorder?” Time Magazine.
Wentworth, K. (11.3.16). Finding faith after moral injuries. Perspectives for Clergy. Caring for veterans and their families.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. And, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. In the 80's and 90's America's suicide trend was heading down. But now its climbing up at alarming rates. Especially among girls ages 10-14. According to the World Health Organization 800,000 people take their life every year-that's 1 person every 40 seconds. Despite suicide statistics trending, all stay curiously silent. Stigma shrouds suicide. Sufferers feel ashamed to speak of it. Most of us don’t want to hear it or talk about it. But some of us don’t have a choice. We’ve had to face it first-hand.
Like V.A. Vet Manny Bojorquez, a Marine gunner who lived through 8 suicides by men in his battalion after returning from Afghanistan (Philipps, 2015). Most of us don’t deal with that level of trauma, but many of us experience the suicide of friends or a family member. When I was 10, my cousin Connie had a brilliant career as a ballerina in New York City. Despite rising to stardom at 30 something, she came home one weekend, shut the garage door, stuffed a rag in the muffler, sat in her car and turned the engine on. My aunt Gertrude found her in next morning. The car was still idling, but Connie was dead. Like Frederich Buechner’s family after his father’s suicide, “we rarely talked about it ever again to each other or to anybody else” (Telling Secrets).
More than 34,000 individuals feeling “hopeless, helpless and hapless” (Graham, 1978) take their own life each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. - See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Suicide#sthash.az5swvD5.dpuf
. For that reason high risk states like KY and WA require clinicians to be trained in assessment and prevention. Last year, I attended a training hosted by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.
Dr. Loren Townsend who won the 2012 Oates Award and also wrote a book entitled Suicide: Pastoral Responses,
led our workshop. Making the point that “suicide is not new,” Townsend said that Socrates dialogued about it, Camus wrote about it and people have been “killing themselves since the beginning of time.”
Clinically defined suicide is “self injurious behavior with an intent to die” (Goldman, 2015). While suicidologists differentiate between thoughts, attempts and completions, it’s always important to take talk of suicide seriously. In 2013, 41,149 completed suicides were reported in this country and 494,169 attempts treated in emergency rooms (Centers for Disease Control
). Some numbers are never reported because not all sufferers seek services (Parks, et al). Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are both damaging and dangerous and are considered a psychiatric emergency. Anyone experiencing these thoughts should seek immediate help from a physician or counselor (Bertolote & Fleischmann, 2002). And though 90% of those who struggle have a mental health condition, that doesn’t mean someone is weak or flawed. - See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Suicide#sthash.az5swvD5.dpuf
Moving from the head to the heart, feelings to commit suicide build over time into an emotional tsunami. Townsend (2015), described it as a “psyche ache of increasing pain that becomes like a toothache that won’t go away.” I’ve never struggled with suicide myself. But sitting with others who have, I’ve seen a numbness that disassociates from life and isolates family and friends as a way to transcend unrelenting pain. When alcohol and drugs are involved it becomes a toxic mix. Believing they’re a burden to others and a “bad seed” (a client’s comment), it becomes a catastrophe that rips apart precious people created in God’s image and rupture the lives of their loved ones left behind. Aftershocks can linger a lifetime. It’s almost impossible to demonstrate causality but we can know the warning signs and learn what to do.
Know the warning signs…
Threats or talk of killing themselves (known as suicidal ideation)Increased alcohol and drug useAggressive behaviorSocial withdrawal
from friends, family and the communityDramatic mood swingsTalking, writing or thinking about deathImpulsive or reckless behaviorFeeling abandoned family, friends and GodMoral injury of an injustice suffered that can’t be forgiven-if a family member/friend or you are struggling with self harm or suicide suggest this website called a remedy to live http://remedylive.com/category/issues/suicide/ where they can chat live.
Support and share your concerns…
Share your observations using “I” (instead of “you”).“I’ve noticed you’re [sleeping more, eating less, etc.]. Is everything okay?”“I've noticed that you haven't been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?”“It makes me afraid to hear you talking about dying. Can we talk to someone about this?”“How can I best support you right now? Is there something I can do or call others to help?”“Can I help you locate & make an appt. for mental health services and supports? “Can I help you with your errands/appointments until you’re feeling better?”“Would you like me to go with you to a support group or a meeting?”-for more see: Mayo Clinic; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/art-20044707
Act on imminent danger when you see sufferers…
Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessionsSaying goodbye to friends and familyMood shifts from despair to calmPlanning by looking around to buy, borrow or steal needed tools to commit suicide, such as a gun, knife, drugs or prescription medicationUsing/abusing alcohol and drugs with any/all of the above behaviors-for more see: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Suicide.
When you are unsure how to assess risk…
- Call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
- Tell a family member or friend right away what's going on.
- Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible.
- Ask your friend/family member for their therapist/doctor’s phone number.
- Call the suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to speak with a counselor.
Christians aren’t immune from suicide. In fact, there’s at least 7 suicides recorded in the Bible: Abimilech, Sampson, Saul, Saul’s amour-bearer, Ahithophel, Zimri and Judas (Meredith, 1980). In all cases there was no judgement nor moral consequences. Five were singled out for their sin. The exceptions were Saul’s armor-bearer (no comment on his character) and Samson who knew his actions would lead to his death though the goal was to kill the Philistines and not himself.
While scripture sidesteps moral commentary on suicide, it doesn’t condone it either. The 6th Commandment would seem to say suicide is self-murder (Thou shall not kill). Not only does it destroy people created in God’s image, but suicide defies the sacred trust that the Holy holds “our times in God’s hands” (Psalm 31:15). Even so the Christian response isn’t condemnation (which seems the greater sin), but compassion. C.S. Lewis’ eloquently exemplifies this in a letter to his suffering friend Sheldon Vanauken. After pleading with him that suicide won’t provide any real resolution to his pain Lewis concludes:“You must go on. That is one of the many reasons why suicide is out of the question. There’s no other man, in such affliction as yours, to whom I’d dare write so plainly. And that, if you can believe me, is the strongest proof of my belief in you and my love for you” (Hooper, 2006).
Summarizing, September is Suicide Prevention Month
. While the numbers are climbing, awareness is numbing. September 10 is World Prevention Suicide Day.
Prioritizing prevention the World Health Organization
is inviting people to download their fact-sheet at https://iasp.info/wspd/pdf/2016/2016_wspd_brochure.pdf
; to educate ourselves and raise awareness within our communities, organizations and churches. All are called to light a candle in our window on September 10 at 8pm, to raise awareness, support loved ones lost, and stand in solidarity with those who grieve. Like C.S. Lewis, may God give us courage and wisdom to offer hope and prevent suicide.
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Goldston, D. (2015, Sept 8). Saving lives from suicide. University of Louisville Depression Center.
Graham, Victoria. (1978; July 9). St. Petersburg Independent,
Hooper, W. (2007, p 606). The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.
San Francisco, Harper-Collins.
Meredith, J.L. (1980, pp 143-44). Meredith’s Big Book of Bible Lists.
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Philipps, D. (2015, Sept 19). In unit stalked by suicide, veterans try to save one another. New York Times,
Townsend, L. (2006). Suicide: Pastoral Responses.
Townsend, L. (2015, Sept 23-4). Assessment, management and treatment of suicide risk. American Association of Pastoral Counselors,
Midwest Fall Conference.