Behind Closed Doors

Cats don’t really like closed doors. Doors to the outside, doors to the garage, doors to the pantry, doors to the front closet. They especially don’t like doors closed when their human subject is behind them. They will push their face to the smallest of cracks beneath the door and if it’s not successful, a paw will appear reaching under the door with outstretched arm. Curiosity? Maybe. Searching for life forms to guarantee they will still get fed? Possibly. Wanting security that everything is as they prefer it to be? Aaaaaah, perhaps we’ve hit the bullseye.

I’m not certain humans much like closed doors either. A separation. A sign of something happening that we’re not allowed to know. Sometimes a sign of being shut-out, not only physically but perhaps emotionally as well. I’m sure you’ve heard, as have I on more than one occasion, after an unexpected happening with someone that catches us off-guard, “we never know what goes on behind closed doors.” It’s an admonition not to judge, I think, but also a bit of an awareness that things are not always as they seem.

There’s been a murder suicide in our community in the last two days. A family with children who are known and loved by a number of our folks at Grace. Heartbreak. Deep questions. Anger. Grasping for answers. Shock. Aghast, perhaps, that this would happen in a quiet suburban neighborhood with a healthy sense of community and friendship. What happened? Why? We thought we knew them, but what was going on behind those closed doors that led to two people dying from gunshot wounds leaving three children without either parent?

No one has answers, and maybe we never will. Domestic violence is one of the subjects being discussed. There has been no formal information that this is the case, but discussion about it is a healthy idea anyway. Part of how domestic violence occurs and continues to occur is through secrecy and silence. Perhaps from the perspective of the person violated: embarrassment that it’s happening, that they would “allow” it when everyone knows how “strong” they are, abject fear for their life and the lives of their children, despondency, belief that they are incapable of any life but the one the perpetrator is providing financially and emotionally, such deep investment in protecting their children from consequences for which they are not responsible and perhaps a fear of losing the children if they come forward and are accused of being incompetent or unable to provide a home in their future as a single parent. Pastor Ali can speak to this far better than me – her background is working in this arena and her awareness and knowledge is far deeper and more nuanced.

When I was about Ali’s age in ministry, I was at a clergy conference (not in Kansas) where we were discussing whether we needed a sexual harassment policy since more women were entering the ministry. There were a handful of women in a room filled with male clergy. One particular clergyman who had been in the ministry for many, many years and was a highly respected leader was adamantly opposed to any policy defining harassment and/or any type of inappropriate behavior that was abusive or violent or exploitative. He didn’t want to explore the process for investigation, follow-up, and suggested consequences. When asked why he was so opposed, he had two reasons: 1) it never happens in “our” churches by “our” pastors; and 2) it simply invites “these girls” to accuse good men of wrong-doing when they don’t get the church jobs they want. That was 25-30 years ago. It took two years to get a rudimentary sexual harassment policy on the books and certainly since then it has been refined and is taken extremely seriously by our entire denomination. But simply putting a policy on the books does not stop the threats, the intimidation, and the sometime strong-armed voices seeking a forced silence to continue a too-often closed door system of unspoken and inappropriate behaviors of power and control.

We learned in a seminary pastoral care class that if left unchecked, the cycle of domestic violence will finally end in someone’s death who is somehow connected to the family system in question. An extended family member who takes things into their own hands to protect someone they love. The perpetrator who finally goes completely over the edge. The victim who finally believes it’s the only solution to stop the cycle. A child who cannot handle seeing or experiencing the violence in their home anymore. A police officer called to a home in the midst of a violently charged situation. Someone is finally going to lose their life.

So many in our community are grieving the loss of two people whose lives were of utmost value in a situation that somehow went horribly wrong, and our hearts break for three young children who have been left without a parent. Somehow they will make their way forward in a life that has been turned so upside down and sideways that to finally find a place of health and healing will take ever so many years and ever so much work on their part and the parts of all the extended family and friends and counselors and teachers and pastors and hopefully an entire village of people who will love them into a different “normal” than anyone wanted to imagine.

Friends, throw open the doors to the issue of violence in the home – it happens, even in suburbia, even to people with financial means, even to people that seem healthy and happy and whole, people just like you and me. The only way we can hope to respond and intervene in a cycle before it ends in someone’s death is to talk about it. Talk about it with our children and let them know where it is safe to go and talk and let an adult know what’s happening in their homes. Let them know that such behavior is not appropriate and not their fault. Talk about it with your adult friends, both men and women. Let them know there are domestic violence hotlines and counselors and safe places to go. Let them know there are counseling programs for both perpetrators and victims of violence. Let them know they can find out all this information from their church, a police station, social media, and school counselors. Be a safe place of non-judgment and deep support for someone to share their vulnerabilities and their fears, and learn what it means to be an upstander for someone who needs an advocate, a voice – someone who will walk with them into an unknown but transforming future toward the good things God wants for them.

We pray for these children and for all children who live into futures not made by their own hands. We commit ourselves to faith in a God who seeks blessing, healing, and wholeness for ALL God’s beloved family. And let us agree together to proactively learn about how we can help each other work and walk safely though open doors of advocacy and truth for the most vulnerable.