An Identity You Can’t Lose

After last Wednesday’s post, a friend asked me the disastrously good question below:

“How does one whose identity is stripped and is forced into sexual slavery (or if refusing will be raped/abused until submission) maintain Christianity? My brain goes to those trapped in Europe with no papers, out of their country, with nobody looking for them who come to Christ through our missions efforts there…but they’re still trapped in the nasty business.”

Well, the more I unpacked it, the more bags I found. There are so many facets and answers and new questions that I would actually have to write a book to get it all out (I’m hinting shamelessly, did you catch it? Any publishers or literary agents in the crowd?), so below is my ruthlessly edited, abridged answer.

If we agree that Christianity is an identity, then we can also agree that it is not just a set of behaviors. While behavior does play a role (and we all have varying degrees of responsibility for our own behaviors, but that’s another facet), we can look at the fact that God forgives and forgets our sinful behaviors (when asked), but He never forgets who we are. Even when we sin, we are still Christians, in the same way that your name doesn’t change just because you switch from Dr. Pepper to Diet Pepsi. Furthermore, we are not responsible for the sins committed against us, whether we bear the scars or not. When a Christian is abused, victimized, or assaulted, the behaviors that they are forced into do not change who they are in Christ. No one revokes your Christianity card because you were victimized.
Well, some people try, actually, but there’s a word for those people, and it ain’t polite, if you’ll pardon my French.

When a child is sexually abused, the child is not considered to be in sin. The child is precisely who they were before, but now also considered a victim of abuse. If a married woman is raped, she has in no way broken her marital vows. If she was a Christian before, she’s still a Christian afterward. If a girl, perhaps unwisely, perhaps out of desperation, moves to another country on the word of someone that she cannot trust, and finds herself sans passport, sans visa, locked in an apartment being “conditioned” for sexual slavery, she has not done something wrong. She hasn’t sinned. Her decision to hop a plane is not justification for what happens next, nor does it alter her bedrock identity.
In that same vein, if you are being exploited sexually, and you find Christ, this does not make you morally responsible for what was, is currently being, or will be done to you. Your new identity is irrevocably in Christ.

There are probably people who will say, “But now that she’s a Christian, she should fight harder… she should refuse… she should willing to die to escape because CHRISTIAN NOW.” These are the same people who can’t understand how an abused spouse doesn’t “just leave“, the way one would simply check out of a sub-standard hotel and leave an unfavorable review on Trip Advisor.
My response to that, other than to thumb my nose at you, is to say that it’s not that simple.

Do we all remember the “Dem Bones” song… “The tone bone’s connected to the foot bone, the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone”, so on and so forth? They left out the mind, soul, and spirit, but it’s all connected.
When someone is hurting you or abusing you physically, they’re also abusing you mentally and emotionally. When someone is abusing you mentally and emotionally, your brain starts to turn in on itself, and you don’t always think in terms of “How dare they do this to me? I’m better than this. I can get out of this.
You think in terms of survival. Some people can shield their minds… some people develop alternate personalities… some people shut off all cognitive reasoning and thought, because SURVIVAL.
Just because one is a Christian, that does not mean that all things will instantly be well… that you will escape, that your abuser will be confronted by an angel with long flowing hair and ninja stars, or that you will suddenly be free of any mentally debilitating coping mechanisms that have blunted your ability to plan an elaborate Hollywood worthy jail break.
It’s not that simple.

“Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed, and why should we be saved from nightmares? We’re asking why this happens to us, who have died to live? It’s unfair.” **

If a victim of sexual exploitation gets saved, the only thing that may have changed in her life is that she now belongs to Jesus… she still may be addicted to drugs (this is one of the tools traffickers and pimps use to control their victims), there may not have been one of those miraculous mental healings that we love so much… she may still be forced to have sex with people under threat of horrific violence. Any children that she may have may not suddenly be whisked away by Liam Neeson so that she can escape without worrying about the threats made against her kids to keep her in line. She more than likely will be suffering from various mental issues. She may not know how to pray more than a few words. She may not know any Bible verses that she can quote in her mind. She literally may not know anything other than the behaviors that have been carved into her psyche.

Christian or not, she may die in that situation.

I don’t think we understand that in first world countries. We think that the end of every story is a wedding ring, or a dramatic explosion, or a field of lilies. We’re especially fond of fox hole conversions that culminate in going safely home. But sometimes, the only difference might be that she now knows that God is with her. I can’t imagine all the ways that God reveals Himself and comes through in those situations where she may never escape that life… but I know that God stays.
He comforts in ways that we can’t imagine.
He holds her.

“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your lives, and you survive. This is what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.” **

Some people are fortunate in that they can escape, either on their own, or through the intervention of other people. Some people, when they escape, are able to go through counseling and slowly build “normal” lives (whatever that means).
Some people don’t… some people can’t… but for those in Christ, not even sexual exploitation can separate them from Him.

**Song lyrics taken from Natalie Grant’s “Held”… which I cried to every time it came on the radio until it stopped coming on the radio(even if I was driving, and for that, I apologize). I’ve linked to a YouTube video if you’d like to hear it.
I watched it.
Cried again.
Ugh.

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