I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.
Last Friday more than 500 people from throughout the Quad Cities gathered in Bettendorf around tables set with delicious meals and vases of sunflowers. But it wasn’t the food or the decorations that brought us there. The elected officials and police officers, social workers and ordinary folks like me came for a shared purpose: to raise awareness and money for women, children, and men who have survived sexual assault.
The keynote speaker, Kelly McReynolds, courageously shared her own story of rebuilding her life after rape. She’s a survivor and now a therapist at Family Resources (an incredible local organization that benefited from the fundraiser and is also supported by the offerings of St. Paul). Kelly used her platform to call out a culture where assault is pervasive and normalized, where power is unchecked, and women are seen as objects and not people.
Near the end of her talk, she gave all of us some pretty clear instructions, “if someone tells you their story, their experience of assault – this is what you say: I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.”
Those words washed over that banquet room like a wave of grace. Those simple statements of assurance and compassion and truth echo words for our own sacred scripture. I heard in her voice, words of the Apostle Paul, “weep with those who weep” and “bear each other’s burdens.” She spoke in ways that made tangible the prophet Micah’s words to “do justice and love mercy and walk humbly.”
I could almost hear Jesus whisper those words to that unnamed woman, surrounded by the men who were ready to stone her for her supposed adultery. “I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.” Maybe we can imagine the Good Samaritan kneeling next to that person beaten and robbed and left on the side of the road, “I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.”
As followers of Jesus, this ought to be our script when we are confronted with stories not just of sexual assault, but every kind of injustice, violence and oppression that seeks to dehumanize, denigrate and destroy God’s precious people. As we listen, we can say “I believe you” and in doing so move from silence and doubt toward truth and trust. We can say, “It’s not your fault” and help to replace shame with worthiness. We can live the promise “You are not alone” and step forward together from isolation toward belonging.
Behind every news story and tweet and joke is a living, breathing, feeling person. Well, actually, lots of people. When every 2 minutes another woman, child or man in the United States is sexually assaulted, our faith demands that we work together so that no one experiences such horror, and everyone can live abundantly with joy and purpose and dignity.
–Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor