Even while writing about it today, the memory is distasteful. I was a preteen sitting in the back seat of a car, parked in the business center of our small town.
Several adults were in the car, visiting. The older man beside me began touching me inappropriately. It was dark, and my father, who was sitting on the other side of the man, had no idea what was happening. I was too naive and embarrassed to stop him or to say anything. I hated that man for many years. When we would drive past his house, I'd always look the other way.
This is the first time I've told anyone what happened so long ago. I no longer hate the man, but I spent too many years feeling a legitimate, but corrosive, hatred for him. This experience, minor compared to what others have suffered, has given me great compassion for young people who have experienced sexual abuse.
I know how violated one feels, and how that violation is enhanced when the offender is part of one's own church community. While this man was not an official of the church but an occasional attendee, he was part of the community church group where I had felt totally safe.
Today, as one scandal of sex abuse after another is uncovered, there is a great hope that better ways to protect children will be found and implemented.
Hateful retaliation doesn't make a helpful contribution to the solution of this problem, nor does an ignorant belief that the offender will not repeat the offense. That sexual abuse is recognized not only as a sin to be overcome and forgiven but also as a crime to be punished is a most needed, progressive step. There is, however, an even greater need to address the climate where sexual images and titillation are pervasive.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy authored a book that exposes root causes of transgressions of all kinds as it offers hope and a way for their abolishment. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "Selfishness and sensualism are educated in mortal mind by the thoughts ever recurring to one's self, by conversation about the body, and by the expectation of perpetual pleasure or pain from it; and this education is at the expense of spiritual growth" (pg. 260).
Failing to recognize our spiritual nature, we may conclude that one is simply an animal, selfishly devoted to fulfilling physical wants. Turning even partially away from such materialistic views moves thought to a more moral reckoning of humankind. No longer engrossed in physical wants and woes, one is led to investigate his or her higher nature, which corresponds with the immutable nature of God. Recognizing God to be Love itself reveals our nature as filled with unselfed love rather than with selfishness.
While selfishness and sensualism are "partners in crime," affection and temperance, both moral qualities, are natural. These qualities are not responsive to immoral impulses that harm the innocent and cause the loathing that is so detrimental to happiness.
The Biblical writer who stated that God is love also wrote, "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him" (I John 2:10). Love for others and selfishness cannot dwell together; love and respect for oneself cannot abide sensualism. Divine Love, reflected and lived, is demanding a purer humanhood.
While sexual offenses in the Roman Catholic Church fill headlines today, we are not unaware that such offenses occur in other churches and in secular organizations entrusted with the care of children. As these groups as all of us face up to pedophilia, many questions are rightly debated. Does zero tolerance exclude forgiveness and healing? When, if ever, can a sex offender again be in a position to work with children? How can people in authority be more alert to the damage done by cover-ups?
Such questioning serves to better protect the innocent. Yet the ultimate and permanent remedy for sexual abuse lies in the hearts and thoughts of each of us. Cleansing consciousness of sensual impulses, sometimes demanded minute-by-minute, also helps cleanse the mental atmosphere in which we all live.
Such a purified atmosphere not only reduces the heinous possibilities of child molestation but also revokes the license one might feel to hate the molester.