Be Prepared: Preachers’ Daughters, Episode Eight

So remember last week, when I promised that my next episode recap of Preachers’ Daughters would be lighthearted and chipper, instead of somber and morose? Eh… yeah, about that. I am not going to keep my word, and I apologize, but there are, as I hope you will see, extenuating circumstances. And actually, I’m going to devote most of this week’s post to two characters that never appeared before this past Tuesday’s episode, and who are on camera for maybe a minute apiece. Their names are Molli and Caleb.

But first, if you absolutely must know what happened to the Koloff, Coleman, and Perry families, here’s the rundown. Kolby Koloff’s dad, Nikita, accompanied her on a date with her boyfriend, Micah. Nikita was impressed, and had a cordial conversation about the evening with Victoria, Kolby’s mother and his ex-wife. Meanwhile, Taylor Coleman decided that she would not attend a Christian college and would not attend college near home—much to her parents’ dismay. She also attended a drag show at an all-ages club in Chicago. And Olivia Perry was asked by her parents to give a testimony at a church-sponsored youth campfire.

And it’s at that point that I want to introduce you to Molli and Caleb, two youth who attended the campfire in question. Olivia designed an exercise for the youth that predictably brought some youth to a very vulnerable place. This is not necessarily a bad thing: growth often comes from being vulnerable. In Olivia’s case, she invited the youth to spend ten minutes in silence writing their sins and struggles on a piece of paper, with the intention of nailing the papers to the cross. 

During the silence, Olivia approaches some of the youth individually, and inquires about their struggles. Here is what one girl, Molli, says. Bear in mind that Olivia guesses that Molli is probably fifteen or so:

“About two years ago I went to a party with my friends and, um… I got raped. It was really hard. And I think… like, I can’t believe I used it as an excuse, but I did… ‘Oh, I got raped, I should smoke weed and try to forget about it.’ And I used to love to go to church all the time. Now I’m just like, I don’t want to go anywhere”

Shortly thereafter, Olivia approaches Caleb, who is sitting alone.  Here is what Caleb says:

“I’m just kinda, like, praying to be someone else so I can be accepted… If I’m someone else, it means I’m not me, because ‘me’ is, like, really weird, awkward, and stupid.”

(deep breath) Okay. 

Let me start by noting Olivia does so many things right here. She stays calm. She doesn’t act horrified. She doesn’t scold or blame. She doesn’t ask Molli or Caleb to take care of her in her bewilderment—even though, as she reflects later, “My mind is going a million miles an hour.” 

At the same time, she seems caught off guard. And that isn’t really fair—to her, or to the youth. Later, recalling the experience, she remarks, “I feel like the things these kids are struggling with are way too heavy and overwhelming for me.” I mean, she’s probably right: they’re way too heavy and overwhelming for anyone who doesn’t have a plan for how to respond when someone discloses that they are in crisis. 

If indeed she was blindsided, she needn’t have been. If you work in a church, in any capacity, you should expect that there are likely abusers and abuse survivors in your midst. You should likewise expect that you might encounter people who’ve been raped and who’ve committed rape. You will at some point encounter people who are profoundly depressed and lonely, and may be a danger to themselves. And you—being kindhearted, and in a position of trust—might well be the safe person to whom someone discloses any one of these things. Depending on your role and where you live, you may be a mandated reporter—someone who is legally liable if s/he fails to report knowledge of child abuse. (The specifics vary by state.)

You need a plan, and the time to make such a plan is in advance. Especially if you’re planning to invite people into a vulnerable psychological space. (Incidentally: If you’re the leader, it’s also a good idea to give people explicit permission not to go into that vulnerable space. That way you don’t force them to make a choice between confronting the unimaginable pain they have to go home to, or being the weird one who doesn’t follow the leader’s instructions.)

How do you start making your plan? Well, go to people who know what they’re talking about and have spent a lot of time with this. Which, for the record, isn’t me. I don’t teach pastoral ethics—though I’m fortunate to have co-taught a course on sexuality with my wonderful colleague, Dr. Mindy McGarrah Sharp. Here are four of her suggestions for people leading faith communities. (These are based largely on my own memory, so if anything seems off here, please know that it’s almost certainly my fault and not hers.) 

1. Have leaflets in the restrooms that tell people how to get help if they are in crisis. The privacy of the bathroom is particularly important for those whose crisis is abuse. Often an abuser will tightly control and limit the social interactions of the person s/he is abusing. Sometimes the bathroom is the only privacy available to the person being abused.

2. Avail yourself of the resources created specifically for faith communities. Mindy recommends both the Faith Trust Institute and the Religious Institute. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has resources specifically for faith communities. 

3. Really investigate what help is available in your area—both its presence and its quality. Getting the names and numbers for referrals is a good first step, but you can do much more than that. Which counselors in the area can be trusted not to blame a victim for his or her own abuse? Which social workers and police officers are most responsive to domestic violence reports? Which therapists have sliding fees for young people who have a hard time affording treatment? Ask around, find out, and then cultivate professional relationships with these people. Have lunch with them every few weeks as colleagues. Don’t be a stranger, as they say. 

4. Talk about all of this in your faith community. Because you may not be the one whom a person in crisis decides to open up to. It may be the teenager giving her testimony to a slightly younger group of teenagers. Make sure that person is prepared, in case s/he doesn’t have the innate gifts that Olivia Perry showed.   

In closing, I’d like to say something to Molli and Caleb, who just had their vulnerabilities broadcast to millions last night.

Molli and Caleb, I’m really glad you reached out for help. It was incredibly brave of you to do so with cameras rolling. Molli, I realize that the opinions of a stranger on the internet likely don’t matter much, but for what it’s worth, I’m so sorry you were raped, and it sounds like you’re still (understandably) reacting to the trauma. Being traumatized by a rape two years later does not not not not not equal “using it as an excuse.” Dealing with trauma is a huge and slow process, and is too much for one person to do alone. Do you still not feel like doing much of anything, even things you used to enjoy? Is anyone helping you with that? I looked for resources in your area, and I found this group. It’s in San Luis Obispo County, CA, which I’m guessing you’re in, since you went to an event at a church in Oceano. I don’t know anything about them beyond what’s on their website, but their material looks good. Maybe think about giving them a call? 

And Caleb, it sounds like things were really bad when last night’s episode was filmed. I’m really sorry. I’m afraid I have had the “I’m Really Weird, Awkward and Stupid” mental playlist on repeat myself, at particularly low points in my life, so I know all too well that other people’s encouragement doesn’t do a lot to drown it out. (What, you mean it doesn’t automatically make everything better to hear that you didn’t seem awkward, weird, or stupid on television? The heck you say!) I don’t know you, but I know that depression is a giant flaming-pantsed liar. But it’s also a really good and persuasive liar, which is why it’s really helpful to have people who will argue back at it with you. Do you have those people? I think it would be good to find those people. This might be an organization to call for help finding those people. It’s also in San Luis Obispo county, so presumably local to you. Consider calling, maybe?

Readers, any other suggestions/stories/links/resources/empathy rays?