[Trigger warning: themes related to sexual assault]
Two years ago, I made friends with a woman in another state via social media. We communicated through Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes on Twitter. She was thoughtful, caring, and generous. She wrote about her children, her family, and the ways God was working in her life. She has several kids, and always seemed to be laughing about the ups and downs of raising a big family. I admired her, was maybe even a little jealous of her overflowing life.
One day, she shared that a gang of teenage boys had raped her young daughter. Her daughter was fifteen years-old. The boys had been harassing her for several months, and she’d done her best to avoid them, but in an opportune moment they cornered her, and raped her.
My friend has been and continues to be a devout practicing Christian. This horror undid her. There were no words. Two months later, her daughter tested positive on a pregnancy test. My friend asked for prayer, and then went silent on Facebook. Deeply heartbroken, utterly done-in, and just plain sad, my friend didn’t have much to say.
Months went by and I didn’t hear from her. After a gentle prompting during prayer, I reached out to her—in hopes of an update and to find out if there was anything I could do, even from hundreds of miles away. I have a daughter in school and it was all very close to home. Every time I thought of her daughter, I’d start to weep.
My friend responded and we began talking from time to time. I asked what they hoped to do about the baby. They decided, per her daughter’s wishes, that they would all raise the baby together. With a humility and dignity I couldn’t begin to comprehend, or pretend to possess, a young girl made the choice to turn her darkest nightmare into a gift of life. And a family united behind her.
I sent a small care package, and we continued to talk intermittently, but mostly I tried to give them space to grieve and start to find a way to rebuild their lives.
Several months later, after the baby boy was born, cute as a button, my friend and her husband decided to find a new school for their daughter to attend. She’d taken several months off. The baby was little, and because the perpetrators were at the local school, the parents decided they’d find a way to send their daughter to the private Christian school near them.
They applied, and in the interviewing process, the school explained they didn’t have room in their school for an unwed mother. They didn’t want the students to get the wrong idea. After all, they don’t promote teenage sex, and therefore, didn’t want to look as if they approve of teenage pregnancy.
The next school they applied to, another private Christian school, told them the same thing. No room. They were afraid an unwed pregnancy, and the baby, might be more than the students could handle.
When my friend wrote to me about these schools, I wasn’t sure what to say. It all felt so baffling, as if these Christian institutions had somehow lost the plot of their own faith story. They should acquaint themselves with the specifics of our two-thousand-year-old-faith. Perhaps all of us need to remind ourselves about the scandalous ways of God. If we are trying to peddle a perfectly pristine faith, overflowing with comfortable stories about a tame God, we peddle something that has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus.
Christianity began when an angel showed up at a young, unwed girl’s house, announcing that she’d been honored with the privilege of carrying a baby boy—a boy who would become the hope of the nations. God chose a young, unwed mother to be mother of the One who would usher in an upside down kingdom, a kingdom where God esteems people quite differently than humanity ever has before. In God’s family, God loves and highly esteems the least in our society: the poor, the outcast, the broken, the refugee, the outsider, the unwed mothers—those for whom some reputable Christian institutions apparently do not have room.
My friend’s story is a poignant reminder for us as we press into Advent this year. If God saw fit to send his only son to us, through a girl without power or position, then we must be about the same things. The Western church has clung to a patriarchal leadership model for far too long. It’s time we remembered the scandalous ways of God, and modeled something of similar kind.
The world is longing to see the goodness of God in the land of living; people are aching to put their hope in a good God. The church needs to model something so different from patriarchy. Something so opposite from top-down leadership and rule-based legalism that excludes the very ones for whom Jesus came—that people would begin to see the heart of the gracious God we have fallen in love with. The God who brings down the powerful from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly. The God who always makes room.