A sad and revealing laugh

I recently saw an unusual news story that made me laugh.

There is a video on YouTube that shows a “Pastor” in Zimbabwe kissing one of the female members of his congregation.  On.the.lips.

Why, you ask? 

Apparently his kiss is able to remove a “demon from her body”.   The concept is so absurd I laughed.   This sarcastic thought ran through my mind,

“Nice logic there, Pastor.  You discover a demon in the attractive woman’s body that only your kiss can remove?  Very creative.”

In the video, the “Pastor” places his hands firmly on the woman’s face and gives her a prolonged kiss – directly on the lips.  After a few seconds, he suddenly pulls away – makes an exaggerated motion and spits on the ground, as if he still had some of the demonic residue in his mouth.  In his native tongue, he says a few words to the woman (with the rest of the congregation standing nearby) and once again, grabs her face and plants another long, intimate kiss on her lips.  The 50-second long video is weird, awkward and hard to watch.

Given the disparity of power (between Pastor and congregant), it’s hard to know if the woman is a willing participant or simply being an obedient churchgoer.  We do not know if she also thought she had a demon or if that was simply the Pastor’s “professional” opinion.  I’m pretty sure he alone came up with the unusual solution as his demon-removing remedy is found nowhere in Scripture.  Interestingly, no one in the congregation tries to stop this behavior even as many seem uncomfortable with the exercise – except of course, the Pastor.

Finding the whole story bizarre and amusing, I copied the link and posted it on my personal Facebook page with this commentary:

“I’m pretty sure this ‘Pastor’ is taking the

“greet one another with a holy kiss” verse

completely out of context.”

It was meant to be a joke.  For those who are unfamiliar with this Bible verse, I was referencing one of several passages in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, Romans 16:16, etc) where the Apostle Paul instructs the members of the Church to “greet each other with a holy kiss”.  (For the record, scholars debate as to what Paul meant by that phrase or what makes a kiss holy.  No reasonable biblical scholar believes, however, that it has anything to do with the exorcism of demons.)

Within minutes of posting, several male friends also found it entertaining as evidenced by their feedback.  It wasn’t until several comments later, accompanied by an anger emoji, that got my attention.  The writer, a female friend, was clearly not finding any piece of this story humorous.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that reaction and it made me suddenly aware that perhaps my perspective on this event was “off”.   

As the post sat there on my wall for all my friends to see… I had a growing, gnawing “check” in my spirit.  Something suddenly didn’t feel right about it.  It was meant to be funny… but was it?  I mean, the guys laughed but the other gender of my audience clearly felt an emotion other than laughter.  

I sent the link and my comment to an advocate for abused women, someone who has experienced abuse as a woman and now counsels dozens in the thick of it.  I was curious to see how she would interpret this story.  As I expected, she sized up the scenario with alarming precision and speed.  She wrote back,

“It’s literally a video of real sexual and spiritual abuse.”

It is?, I thought.   

Her words were jarring.  Did I really just post a video showing abuse?  I actually found THAT funny??  I started to wonder, is this an issue of an overly sensitive woman or completely desensitized men?

Then she asked me,

“Why do you want to post that?”

Good question.  Why did I want to post that?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about this video and my initial response to it.

As a man who has never experienced sexual assault or abuse, I only saw  the ridiculous claim that a kiss can exorcise a demon.  Somehow, I missed the part where another human being was being placed in an objectified position by someone who is supposed to pastor/protect her.   A woman was being abused in the name of God or church or faith or healing and my knee-jerk reaction was laughter.  

I started to realize that it’s possible (if not easy) for some of us to stare sexual or spiritual abuse in the face and not even recognize it for what it is.

We shrug it off.

We laugh it off. 

We excuse it off.

We dismiss it away. 

We deny it exists. 

We call it by a different name. 

We view it under the guise of being silly or cute or playful or harmless.

But it isn’t.

Pornography is another great example of this type of verbal gymnastics.  We call it “porn” but when you think about it – it is really the abuse of vulnerable women (or children), caught on tape, for the pleasure of men. 

What would happen if we started calling it by it’s evil, ugly, detailed description instead of by it’s less damning, abbreviated four letter word? 

As a full-fledged sinner with some major league sins under my belt, I understand the temptation to name the wrong we do in more palatable ways.   It’s easier to think we “borrowed” that which we actually stole.

It is not uncommon for me to receive a phone call from several male friends who ask for prayer or accountability because of their “struggle” or “thorn” or “lack of purity”. 

What if these prayer requests and admissions of guilt were more specific in their vernacular?

What if the phone call went something like this,

“Rod,

  • “I’m tempted to watch videos of really vulnerable women get abused sexually.”   OR
  • “I get turned on by watching naked men treat naked women with disdain and cruelty.”  OR
  • “I secretly enjoy watching videos of prostitution.”  OR
  • “I like to go into a dark room, pull my pants down and watch other men hurt and degrade women.  This experience brings me pleasure.”

It’s not easy to read those sentences (or write them!), let alone admit this vice might tempt you.  And yet, until we see abuse for what it is, we’ll never really address it.  And we can’t address anything unless we recognize it for what it is.  I mean, this is 12 step process 101.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

 

I have to do better in this area.  

We, as men, have to do better in this area.  

We have to see what’s going on, under our noses, in broad daylight.  We have to be willing to call out our friends, neighbors, co-workers, parents, relatives, Pastors or any other person perpetuating abusive situations, even those perpetuated by ignorance.  Our ladies need this from us.  The gospel requires this of us.  Our Christian witness is begging this from us.

Somehow I stared sexual and spiritual abuse in the face and laughed at it. 

If I missed this, what else am I not seeing?

May God open our eyes and allow us to see people (especially those on a video we will never meet) through His lens and grant us the courage to stand up and defend those who are vulnerable or defenseless.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

 

For the record, I took down the post from my Facebook page.

I. remain. available.

You have to live under a rock or be completely off the grid to not hear the news of the latest sexual scandal that is rocking the core of Hollywood’s elite.  One of Hollywood’s biggest names is having to answer for multiple skeletons coming out of his closet at an alarming rate, from rape to unwanted sexual advances and every accusation in-between.  This story is dominating the headlines and overshadowing international news – no small feat with the current circus-like administration.  Given the man’s high profile nature, we should expect to find more and more women who will finally come forward and tell their tale.

Sexual misconduct and scandal are not uncommon news stories among the celebrity culture we live in.  Every few months we learn of a politician, athlete, musician or actor who finds themselves at the epicenter of immoral controversy.  Sadly, the sinful details don’t surprise me anymore.  Every human heart is capable of every evil deed.   I know (first-hand) what it’s like to live a double life and shock your inner circle.

While Harvey’s sins have been described as “egregious” and “disgusting” what struck me today was not the depravity of the deeds but the response of his friend.

Another Hollywood mogul and long-time friend (Jeffrey Katzenberg) wrote the following in an email to his friend, now made public:

“You have done terrible things to a number of women over a period of years.

I cannot in any way say this is OK with me…It’s not at all, and I am sickened by it, angry with you and incredibly disappointed in you.

There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins…one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all.

As someone who has been a friend of yours for 30 years, I’m available to give you advice on how to at least try to make amends, if possible address those that you’ve wronged, and just possibly find a path to heal and redeem yourself. Having watched your reactions, seen the actions you have taken and read your statement, I will tell you, in my opinion, you have gone about this all wrong and you are continuing to make a horrible set of circumstances even worse.

I doubt this is what you want to hear from me and most likely you aren’t interested in my advice but this is the way I see it.  I remain available.”   – JK

****************************

I can sympathize with the accused.  As a man who once held a high profile position of sorts, I have had to come to terms with the countless demons from my past while in the fishbowl of public scrutiny.  Though our sins are quite different, the ash-heap he currently sits in is the same.  More and more people are distancing themselves from Harvey as they don’t want their name (or brand) associated with Hollywood’s latest leper.  I remember all too well the mass exodus of relationships that I experienced when my sins were made public many years ago.  It’s a special type of rejection.   It’s an acute emotional pain – even if we “deserve it.”

I understand Mr. Katzenberg’s reaction.  He’s naturally “sickened,” “angry” and “disappointed.”  He’s coming to grips with the reality that there was a Harvey he never knew, a shocking revelation from someone he spent 30 years “knowing.”

It’s easy to be disgusted by someone’s behavior, especially if those behaviors are truly foreign to your own temptations.  It’s easy to pick up a stone of judgment and throw it at the accused, especially when everyone would agree he deserves the social pummeling.   It’s easy to “write off” a relationship – especially when that relationship was – at its core – deceptive.  In fact, it’d be easier to just quietly walk away justifying that he’s a “lost cause.”  Why write an email or spend more time in this fallen friendship when Mr. Katzenberg undoubtedly has hundreds of other friends who are more palatable to love?

I think that is what struck me about Mr. Katzenberg’s email.  He chose not to do any of the easy choices before him.  While he rightfully condemns Harvey’s actions, he doesn’t change his phone number.  He hates Harvey’s sin but does not hate Harvey the sinner.  He doesn’t distance himself from leprosy.  He doesn’t try to protect his brand.  Going against the powerful public flow, he drops the rock of judgment, offers to sit down in the ash-heap and communicates the 3 most important words that every Harvey longs to hear:

I. remain. available.

 

Even now.

Prior to these painful revelations, the world was available to Harvey.

  • He had a good reputation.
  • He had respect.
  • He had power.
  • He had prestige.
  • He had money.
  • He had connections.
  • He had clout.

He had everything that everyone (Hollywood or not) wanted to have.  Weeks later, he’s virtually lost it all.  There is simply no room for such luxuries on an ash-heap.  Celebrities cannot distance themselves fast enough. Politicians who gladly accepted his enormous campaign donations suddenly find themselves unwilling to lend him a moral penny in his greatest hour of need.  History has shown humans to be fickle like that.  One week we can shout “Hosanna in the highest” and the next week, “Crucify Him.”  Without a doubt, Harvey can count on one hand the number of friends who “remain available,” especially publicly.

Contrast this news story with the other dominating news story this week; the raging fires in California.   The devastation is surreal and hard to watch.   Dozens are dead, hundreds have lost homes and thousands are now displaced with little idea of what to do next.   As I watch the fires burn, I hear the emerging stories of the first responders, the brave souls who are going in when others are going out.  While the masses are running from, these heroes are running to.   Why?   Why would someone risk so much to save a total stranger?   Money?  Fame?  Prestige?  What motivates a first responder to commit such acts of bravery – especially with nothing to personally gain?   I think there is only one answer:

Because the ones in danger are worth saving.

At this point, few probably think that Harvey is worth saving.  Like the fire, his deeds have caused enormous damage and have left a trail of destruction for those he burned.  Harvey himself may wonder if the “path to healing and redemption” are possible, let alone worth it.

This is why Katzenberg’s email is not only remarkable but necessary to highlight.   He’s running to his friend while everyone else is running from.  It doesn’t minimize the victim’s plight or the weight of Harvey’s actions.  It doesn’t ignore the fact that there are very real consequences (professionally, socially and legally) that may need to be faced.  But it shows us something that few understand the importance of – especially in the midst of public failure; healing and redemption are necessary pursuits.

Because Harvey has money?   No.  Because he makes good films?   No.

Simply because Harvey has value even when his actions are worthless.

The ignorant tend to put people into two categories; good and bad.   If someone does an action I like, they are good.  If someone does an action that hurts me, they are bad.  We are much too complicated to be labeled like that.  The problem is that all of us, according to the Bible, have done bad and fallen short of the Heavenly standard (Romans 3).  While some sins cause greater damage and deliver greater consequences – all sins place us on common ground – in the soiled ash-heap.  G.K. Chesterton summarizes the human condition best, “There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.”

The truth is, wounded people wound people and we are all wounded.  We tend to hurt others in the areas where we lack healing and no amount of money, fame or accomplishment changes that.  I’m not justifying Harvey’s actions, merely explaining them.  Unless we find healing, we will continue to hurt others.  And sometimes we need help finding healing.

While the masses are distancing themselves from Harvey, Katzenberg offers proximity, healing, help, and hope.

His three-word response should challenge all of us the next time we discover the moral leper in our midst:

I remain available.

Do you?

 

  • “If anyone is caught in a sin, who you are spiritual, should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)