To Publish a Predator
In 1958, Vladimir Nabokov rocked America's sleepy, conservative culture with the publication of Lolita, the story of a middle-aged scholar obsessed with a 12-year-old girl. Lolita is perhaps the most brilliant, well-crafted example of a literary device called "the unreliable narrator"—a narrator who cannot be trusted because of limited knowledge, mental illness, or questionable morals. The book's narrator is Humbert Humbert, a literary scholar who has long been obsessed with prepubescent girls.
From the first sentence, "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta," we're plunged into the mind of a sexual predator and pedophile. Throughout the novel, Humbert shows little remorse for his emotional and sexual affair with a child—at least not enough to break the relationship. He tries to stir the sympathies of his audience as his describes events to reflect well on himself, presenting himself not so much as a perpetrator as a victim of the "seductress" Lolita.
Last week, when I read the Leadership Journal article, "My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon," I had much the same reaction as when I first read Lolita. "This is a narrator who cannot be trusted. This is the voice of a sexual predator." For many people, like me, it was all too familiar. We readily recognize the biased perspective of sexual predators because we've been on the other side, as victims.
I appreciate Leadership Journal's original intention to draw attention to the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, and I applaud their decision to take the post down and subsequent apology. I do think it's helpful, though, to also reflect on the mindset of the sexual predator, for this can reveal the skewed perspectives we find in many churches.
When I was 21 years old, I was forcibly raped by a youth pastor, an experience I described earlier this year for Christianity Today. My story is one of way too many. Each month, we hear the heartbreaking stories of young people who are groomed and manipulated and sexually abused by people in trusted positions of power, like youth group leaders and pastors. In May 2014 alone, associate pastor Tyrone Banks was charged with the rape and sodomy of a 13-year-old; men's ministry leader Joseph Hall was arrested for 14 counts of sex crimes against a girl younger than 12; pastor Gregory Hawkins was arrested for having sexual intercourse with and impregnating a minor; and former pastor Larry Michael Berkeley was arrested for sex crimes involving children. And these are just a handful of a slew of cases that crop up each and every month.
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