For Everyone Born – a problematic hymn
Filed under: Music, Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary, Shoot Yourself in the Foot, Work
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. I went to the first new PC(USA) hymnal launch event in Pennsylvania last fall, and I’ve heard this hymn sung MANY times – at Field Ed, at General Assembly, at Princeton Seminary many times in chapel, at the Worship and Music conference. This hymn is quickly becoming a favorite of churches and seminaries.
It’s catchy. It’s easy to sing. It has a central message of unity, though it stumbles with some equality concepts. The refrain is really pretty and mentions all sorts of good things.
But it has a problem. Several problems really, but I’m going to concentrate on one. This problem has been pointed out to me by several friends.
Recently I’ve been noticing a pattern among my friends – primarily my female friends and close relatives. I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at how many have been abused – usually physically or sexually. It’s not that far from the truth to say that all adult women that I know well enough to have heard such stories have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse. Or controlling behavior. ALL of them. Some more than once. I’m alarmed, and trying to figure out what to do with the anger.
For these friends (and certainly others), verse 4 of For Everyone Born is a problem. Here’s the verse:For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
(Copyright 1998, Hope Publishing)
At a first glance it seems pretty benign – that abuser and abused should be able to participate in the church and Eucharist equally. We truly believe that. It’s not really a problem.
But then you read it again. And you notice that the injunctions are all against the abused. The abused has a need to forgive. (What does the abuser have to forgive?) The abused is called to have a mindset of mercy.
And worst of all – the abused is expected to be at the same table as the abuser. THIS is psychologically damaging for everybody that has talked to me about this. The idea of sitting at a table, a Holy Table, with one’s abuser is painful. It causes panic attacks. It causes anger. One friend felt a call to walk out of a service in the middle of the hymn (though she didn’t). This verse of this hymn turns our sanctuaries from places of safety to places of danger. Danger in the triggering of abuse victims, and danger in the very real implication of sharing space with their abuser.
This becomes even more insidious when the abuser is a family member or significant other. People who have suffered abuse have it repeated again through family pressures. Family members urge or even demand that they reconcile with their abuser (often without knowledge of the abuse) “for the good of the family.” The abused person becomes the problem in that they split the family, rather than having the responsibility for the split properly lodged with the abuser. Some people continue years later to have nightmares about the abuser and the abuse, and this demand in this hymn can bring up all of that again.
The refrain calls on us to create justice, compassion and peace:and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!
I question whether any of these are possible when calling for abuser and abused to be in the same place. The abused will not feel justice. They will not feel compassion – they will feel the opposite. They clearly will not feel peace, or joy.
I doubt that the hymn’s author intended to make this statement. Still, the verse remains imbalanced. Some call for repentance and reparation might balance it. But perhaps it would be better just to leave it out. When this hymn was sung as the Class Hymn at my Princeton Seminary graduation last May I chose not to sing this verse. I almost sat down for the verse, but I was in a place where that would have been difficult and nobody would have understood what I was doing anyway.
So if you want to use this hymn, please consider skipping verse 4. Or consider skipping the hymn entirely – there are other hymns that say the same thing without triggering the many (many more than you realize) victims of abuse. Or at least know that you may have some work to do after it is sung.