Lady Gaga is one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic entertainers. One minute she’s wowing us with a heartfelt salute to legend Julie Andrews, the next she’s shocking us by wearing a meat dress or, in American Horror Story, wearing hardly anything at all. Her latest splash in the Hollywood spotlight came at last week’s Oscars, where she gave an emotional performance of “Til It Happens to You,” her Oscar-nominated song about sexual abuse.
Pundits have spilled a great deal of electronic ink discussing Gaga’s performance—but none of them were as excellent and as insightful as what Dr. Juli Slattery shared on her blog at Authentic Intimacy. If that name sounds familiar to you, it should: Slattery has been a longtime friend of Focus on the Family, and she spent a few years co-hosting and guest hosting for Focus’ daily broadcast before God called her to co-found Authentic Intimacy (for which she now serves as president). With her permission, we’re re-printing the post below, where she tells us that, even in the darkest of times, there is hope.
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with Lady Gaga and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but last night was an exception. In a dramatic presentation, Lady Gaga performed “Til it Happens To You” as dozens of male and female victims of sexual abuse stood in solidarity. Spotlight, a film chronicling scandals of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church took the top honor winning the Oscar for best picture. This year’s human rights cause in Hollywood was to highlight the atrocity of something that happens every day, in every neighborhood, on every college campus and, dare I say, in every church. Sexual exploitation is a worldwide epidemic that deserves more attention than a nod at the Oscars.
While we at Authentic Intimacy applaud Lady Gaga and the Academy for bringing to light this crucial injustice among us, we have vastly different perspectives regarding how to respond to victims and how to curb the growing tide of sexual abuse.
The tidal wave of sexual exploitation in our world will not subside until we recognize sexuality as a great spiritual battlefield. It is sadly ironic that the same people decrying sexual abuse create countless films that objectify women and present sexual pleasure as a commodity traded as freely as baseball cards. This cavalier and humanistic attitude toward sexuality, pornography, and the “hook up” culture are clearly propagating the tragedy highlighted in last night’s Oscars.
What to do with Humpty Dumpty
The nursery rhyme is familiar to us.
Humpty-Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall
All of the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
How many women have I met who feel exactly this way as a result of the sexual exploitation they have experienced? Below the veneer of self-confidence and independence lie shattered pieces of purity, identity, innocence and trust. Even an army of psychiatrists and counselors (all the king’s men) fail to erase the shame, the memories, the anger and the brokenness.
The message of Lady Gaga’s song was, “Don’t tell me everything will be alright!” Sexual abuse and exploitation damage its victims to the very core of their identity. Many survivors spend a lifetime trying to escape the dark messages written on the soul during brief moments of violation. Lady Gaga herself, a victim of sexual abuse, sang with anger and intensity, proclaiming that you don’t have anything to say unless you also have been through the horrors of sexual violation. The sexual confusion and brokenness represented by Lady Gaga’s own life and work testify to the emptiness of our attempts to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
A Surprising Healer
As a Christian psychologist, I am thankful for recent advances in our understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain. Counseling and medical intervention can help, but they can never heal. It is why I am passionate about exalting the ONE, who came to bring healing to all of those who have been oppressed, victimized and abused.
At the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus quoted a prophecy from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair,
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Pointing to this ancient passage, Jesus declared this as the purpose of His Incarnation. He came to bring a great exchange: exchanging ashes for beauty, mourning with gladness, and despair with praise.
Besides this passage in the margin of my Bible I have written, “This is your call on my life. July 2011.” This was the passage the Lord gave me while on my knees, before knowing that I would start a ministry to women. This is why Jesus came to the earth and also why He prompted me and Linda Dillow to found Authentic Intimacy.
While Lady Gaga’s song was bold and purposeful, it offered no hope. In fact, the message was that victims of sexual abuse suffer alone because no one can quite reach into their despair and brokenness. We want to tell you clearly; you are not alone. Jesus is the God, who sees your pain, who hears your cries in the night, the God of all comfort, and the One who can bind up your broken heart. He can release you from the prison of your sin and the darkness of your shame. Lady Gaga, He has “been there.” Why did the God of the universe suffer abuse, ridicule and torture at the hands of human beings? So that He would be the “man of sorrows, acquainted with our grief,” identifying with us in our deepest pain.
One of the names of God is “Jehovah Rapha” which means “the Lord who heals you.” Unfortunately, many Christians do not acknowledge God as the Healer of our sexual brokenness. The unspoken lie we believe is that sexuality is beyond God’s ability to heal, to redeem and to restore. God has been gracious to bring many men and women across my path whose lives declare that God is the Healer of all brokenness, including within our sexuality. The book Surprised by the Healer gives an intimate portrait of nine real women who suffered abuse, betrayal, shame, and sexual pain but have discovered profound healing through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Maybe the Oscars inspired you, but are you willing to be Surprised by the Healer?