“Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”
That’s what they say, when religious leaders are questioned about their abusive and manipulative actions.
“We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. You wouldn’t want somebody airing all your dirty laundry, would you?”
As if building an multi-million-dollar “ministry” or “church” on the backs of vulnerable followers is a slip-up, the sort of thing that happens one night when you’re drunk and hope nobody remembers in the morning. As if.
As if being told “Hey, you don’t get to make yourself rich and famous while destroying the lives that have been entrusted to your care” is the same thing as being nailed to a tree and left to bleed out. As if.
Why do you hate ____________ ?
Fill in the blank with his name.
Fill in the blank with the latest cult personality to resign in disgrace after years of outcry from his once-followers. Fill in the blank with the face that represents power gone wrong, manipulation, deceit, betrayal.
Hate? That’s not what this is about. It’s about saying “No more.”
Why are you celebrating?
Not that a man’s life is ruined, no. That a man who used his influence to ruin so many others’ lives now has just a little less power? Yes. Absolutely.
If that’s not worth celebrating, you’re not paying attention.
Why are you angry?
We asked for bread and they gave us stones. Told us it would satisfy our hunger. Told us it would make us strong. And when we were still empty, they said it was our fault. (Try harder. Do more.)
If I am angry, it is only because I am heartbroken. If I am heartbroken, it is only because I’ve seen what those stones have done to us – to me, my family, the people I love, a hundred strangers that have emailed me to say “Me too.”
The wounds go deep. They tear at the very fabric of our humanity. They pervert the image of God beyond recognition. They leave us limping for years, decades.
If you’re not angry or heartbroken (or both), you’re not paying attention.
Why don’t you just get over it?
I’m trying. It will take time. You don’t undo twenty years of violence against the soul in a moment, or in a prayer.
But also –
Why should I “get over it” when the cycle is being repeated over and over? The same leader back with a fresh song and dance. A brief apology tour and a slick rebranding.
(And when he finally fades away, there’s always another one right behind him – another charismatic smile, another new idea, another mountain of empty promises, another pile of stones instead of bread, a burden too heavy for anyone to bear. )
Get over it? No.
As long as the machine masquerading as “church” circles around to protect those that prey on the most vulnerable, I don’t plan to “get over it”. As long as church leaders give standing ovations to those who built empires on the broken backs of earnest seekers, I don’t plan to “get over it”. I hope to God you won’t either.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
But when Jesus said these words, he wasn’t talking about protecting abusive religious leaders from accountability. He was talking about protecting vulnerable people from abusive religious leaders.
Sometimes that means drawing a line in the sand, kneeling next the broken, and saying “No more.”
Why are you throwing stones?
Maybe it’s all they gave us. Maybe it’s all we have.
(But maybe, we’ll hold them close and one day use them to build something beautiful. Maybe. I hope to God.)