Updated: Aug 31, 2022
On October 6th, The Michigan Daily published a Campus Life article entitled, “‘We will not be silenced’: UMich student survivors of Young Life sexual misconduct allegations speak out.” You can find the article here.
In the interview, Maddie bravely shared her bold narrative of sexual assault by a Young Life student leader. She later told Becca, another Young Life student leader at the time, of the abuse she had suffered, to which Becca responded by reporting it to the University of Michigan’s Young Life leadership.
If you’ve been following stories like this for any length of time, or if you’ve been victimized yourself, you probably know what I’m about to say next:
Becca was terminated by leadership over Zoom.
There’s a part of me that wants to end this post right there ↑, but based on Young Life’s response, it appears that the issue here isn’t as crystal clear as I would hope it would be. Therefore, I will continue...
Where was the obvious and overwhelming concern for the well-being of both of these women? Maddie for the horrific and terrifying violation of her entire personhood and Becca for the emotional and psychological weight she was carrying for a fellow female and human?
Where was the alarm? The feeling of conviction? The empathy?
Where was the investigation? The immediate call to action?
And my most burning question: When will we care more for the individual than we care for the organization? The beautiful creation of a single person by God, designed in His image, and given the worth and value of Jesus’ crucifixion.
God does not care about the apparent “success” of the organization, if the leaders destroy His creation in the process. Remember, He left the 99 to go after the 1 (Matthew 18:11-13). When face-to-face, what will He say to those leaders who abused, then silenced the 1...or the many more than 1?
Will He say, “You were a fraud”?
And what does the fallout look like for the 1?
A quote from Maddie, as written in the above article, highlights another concern of NWM in relation to these horrifying failings by religious leaders and organizations. A concern that we speak about often:
“I think my trust in church structures in general has declined extremely...(Young Life) has hurt me so much further than I can explain by using the word of God or saying that what they were doing was more important than the pain I was going through.”
I heartbreakingly wonder if she truly meant “church structures” only, or if her trust in the truth of who God is has also changed. The confusion that results when God’s name and the Bible are used to support unhealthy or abusive practices oftentimes places someone under the authority of a false god. A god who cares more about works than salvation by grace, and who focuses on the big picture at the expense of an intimate personal relationship.
This is religious abuse and that is not the Christian God. That is not the God of the Bible.
That god is an idol of self. A leader who is arrogant enough to think they can impress God with their accomplishments and accolades, thus shadowing their selfish heart. A heart that desires power, prestige, and homage. A heart that protects from the fear of scandal by shutting up those who seek help, instead of humbling itself before a God of mercy, seeking justice, and embracing tough change
I recognize that god, without question, but only because I see that god at work all the time. The god of self is present in every single one of these bold narratives. I can find him in every tragic story that both infuriates me and brings me to tears simultaneously, and I wonder when I will see that god for the last time, because that god is who truly needs to be silenced.
But then I see the strength of survivors like Maddie and Becca, who rise up from the ashes and plant their feet firmly into grey dust beneath them, refusing to be controlled and cancelled by the pride of another, and my heart swells. My lips curl up into a small smile and my eyes dampen, because there He is: there is the reflection of the real God at work. The God who creates warriors in His strength, who qualifies for His glory and for the love of His people, and who redeems us in His perfect grace.
Thank you, Maddie and Becca, and all those who are sharing in the #DoBetterYoungLife movement, for speaking up when you were told to shut up. You are courageous, we see you, and we love you.
And for any Young Life leaders out there: there is still time. You can change your narrative and/or the narrative of your organization. You do such good work in so many ways; ministries need not continue going down in flames, leaving behind an abusive legacy. This can be different. It can be better. It can be God-honoring. Sometimes, though, focusing in on problems like this can feel overwhelming, even devastating for those who hadn't known, and help is needed. We would love to support you. Reach out anytime.