I was watching a televised biography on the life of Grammy award-winning gospel singer, Pastor Donnie McClurkin. The show opened by sharing that Pastor McClurkin grew up with several siblings. When they were all children, one of them died after a car hit him in the street. Pastor McClurkin’s mother was too distraught to care for the surviving children, so someone made the decision to send them all to live with an uncle. At this point in the biography, the voice-over narration said, “No one in the family knew that this uncle was a pedophile.” The narrator goes on to say that Pastor McClurkin’s uncle raped him while he lived there and that uncle’s son, Pastor McClurkin’s older cousin, also raped him.
What stuck in my head while I was watching this were the words, “No one in the family knew that this uncle was a pedophile.” I immediately said aloud to the other people in the room who were watching this with me: “That’s a lie…someone did know.”
In some of our families, keeping such secrets is the standard. And it is very likely some of these families are in our churches, part of our community. I know in my own family, even as a Christian family, secrets were still kept.
In one family I met, an uncle sexually abused younger female members of his family. One of the adult survivors shared that when she told her mother of the abuse she was told, “no one will believe us.” So, someone did know. But no one ever said anything.
In yet another family, they had two separate incidents of sexual advances made towards the male children. In one of the cases, the sexual advance towards the thirteen-year-old boy was from the husband of one of the adult cousins. Even though the child told adult family members, the family kept it quiet. The reason they gave was, “no one wants to upset the wife”. So, again, someone did know. But no one said anything.
When we keep secrets like this, no one wins. Not only are we preventing the ones who are abused from receiving justice and mercy, we are also preventing those who have done the abuse from the same thing. All are image bearers of God.
Additionally, it is important to remember that sometimes our family might be our church family. Therefore, we need to be alert and paying attention to who is around our children and what our children are telling us. Watch children for unspoken cues or unexplained discomfort. And when they voice it, be an advocate for them. Romans 15:1 says, “…let the strong bear the infirmities of the weak…” Have a place to open up dialogue and create a safe place to report.