Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Nightmare in Maryville"

Maryville is a county seat town in northwest Missouri. It is the home of Northwest Missouri State University, and as we lived in the neighboring county that is where several of my high school classmates went to college.

Outside of those familiar with northwest Missouri, though, not many people have heard much about Maryville. But that recently changed.
But since the appearance of “Nightmare in Maryville,” the front page article in the Oct. 13 issue of the Kansas City Star, the town of some 12,000 people has been in newspapers as far away as Los Angeles, on national TV news programs, and on prominent websites like (at least nine times, first at this link).
It all centers on Daisy Coleman, a 14-years-old girl who in Jan. 2012 was allegedly raped by a high school senior. But no one was convicted of the crime against Daisy—mainly, it seems, because the guilty young man was from a prominent family who was able to get the charges dropped.
On Oct. 18, Daisy divulged “what really happened” in an article posted on the Internet, and it seems to be in basic agreement with the Star’s article. It seems clear she did some things she shouldn’t have done.
She shouldn’t have been drinking alcohol with her 13-year-old friend, as that is illegal. She shouldn’t have sneaked out to “have fun” with older boys in the middle of the night. And she shouldn’t have drunk the “bitch cup” when she got there.
But what she did pales in comparison to what happened next. It seems quite clear that she was sexually abused—and then dumped back outside her house and “left for dead” in the freezing cold. None of the foolish things she did can possibly justify the criminal action taken against her.
Neither can anything excuse the crassness of the people in Maryville who turned against her rather than blaming those who grossly mistreated her.
Unfortunately, rape cases are not terribly rare, and if it had “only” been that, it would not have been widely reported in the media. In 2011 there were over 1,450 cases of forcible rape in Missouri, including four in Nodaway County, where Daisy lived with her mother and three brothers.
But in the case of Daisy, the crime against her has been aggravated by what seems to be a failure to prosecute adequately the perpetrators of the crime, as well as by the negative reactions toward Daisy and her family.
A special prosecutor from Kansas City has now been appointed to re-open the case. Several months from now there may be “justice for Daisy,” such as many people locally and nationally are calling for.
In reading Daisy’s own version of what happened on that night 21 months ago and since, I was sorry to see that she wrote, “I quit praying because if God were real, why would he do this?” I can understanding something of the pain and hurt Daisy has experienced, on various levels.
But why blame God? How did God have anything directly to do with her own misbehavior, the criminal behavior of those who abused her, or the failure of the legal system?
I wish Daisy could read the helpful new book with the pungent title “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God” (2013) by Ian Punnett.
At any rate, I want to say, “Daisy, don’t be so quick to give up on God. You badly need God’s warm embrace and the support of a community of faith. And it is possible for you to find both.”


  1. Leroy, you said: "None of the foolish things she did can possibly justify the criminal action taken against her." That is quite right, and I'd underscore the claim. Even if you're a dead drunk ne'er-do-well passed out on a public sidewalk, you're not at fault if someone assaults you in any way. It seems that in many ways we're too quick to blame the victim.

    Her trouble with God is quite understandable, especially the God that traditional Christianity preaches--one who loves us and is in control of things. As you know, this is the problem, in scholarly parlance, of theodicy, and it is an insurmountable problem if we continue to promote traditional concepts of God as an omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, and omni-loving supernatural person. I'm finding, this semester, that most of my college students have rejected their religious upbringing, in part, because of the contradictions in the teachings they experienced in their churches and schools. I don't know whether to celebrate or lament this development because many of them presumably won't go on in a serious search for a more mature and reasonable faith. Most will probably join the church of "none." I'm opposed in spirit and in principle to the new atheists, but insofar as they deconstruct traditional and popular "street" theology, they're right on target.

    1. Spot on, Anton!

      I would add that patriarchalism's definition of "woman" as property, and Playboy philosophy's definition of "woman" as toy (Been around since way before Playboy!), contribute to the twisting of Christianity into its various pop forms.

    2. Anton, thanks for your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, comments.

      I certainly agree that Daisy is probably the victim of problematic theological ideas, as are so many people. But, to paraphrase Jim Wallis, the correct response to bad theology is not no theology but good theology.

      Properly nuanced, I can affirm the concept of God as an omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, and omni-loving supernatural person. But that must be balanced by an emphasis on human freedom and responsibility. It is the idea of God as a puppet-master that is the main problem, and a major problem with "street theology," as you put it is the idea that somehow can, should, or will protect us (pull all the right strings) at all times.

      As one who has long emphasized paradoxical theology, I affirm both the sovereignty of God and the complete freedom of human beings, who can, and often do, live as if God does not exist.

  2. Local Thinking Friend (and pastor) Kevin Payne comments,

    "Good job, Leroy – I agree. Sadly, money and prominence still trump justice in so many areas of our culture."

  3. My much appreciated Thinking Friend in Kentucky, who faithfully reads my blog postings and comments regularly, wrote,

    "It sounds like Daisy thinks of God as the Watch Maker who made the world and flung it into space, leaves us on our own to do as we please, and then jumps in now and then to rescue people. The Bible pictures God in a quite different way as the one who suffers with us and for us in our worst of times."

  4. Excellent article Leroy. I will be in Maryville in a few weeks, and I am sure this will be a topic of conversation. Have you ever read Paul Fiddes's 'Creative Suffering of God'? I would highly recommend it for those think about theodicy. No one can provide an emotionally satisfying or intellectually waterproof answer to these issues, but Fiddes certainly goes into the depth of what it means when we write that God suffers with us and is within in in our worst of times.

    1. Greg, it is good to hear from you again.

      Thanks for the recommendation of Fiddes's book. I have read only a bit of one or two or his other books, but I have wanted to read more by him. The book you mentioned is in the William Jewell library, and I will check it out and read at least some of it soon.

  5. I agree with the previous points and have two additional thoughts. The first is more on how people think God works. After a recent Chiefs win, the Kansas City Star had a list of tweets from Chiefs players that gave all the credit to God. Some readers thought that was great. Of course, if you give God credit for football wins, it is not hard to understand why Daisy would give up on God. I have never read the Bible verses that make people think God cares who wins a football game.

    Second, Daisy and her mother had not lived in Maryville long. While I hesitate to paint the entire town with this brush, it appears they ganged up against the "outsider". That is particularly scary for a state university town and is a consideration for those of us that have daughters investigating colleges.

    1. Dennis, it is good to hear from you again, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I think your reference to pro athletes linking victory to God's blessing was "spot on," as some say.

      Concerning your second point, that seems to be a part of the situation I didn't say anything about because of (self-imposed) space limitations.

      Even though the Coleman family came from Albany, only 40 miles away, they were "outsiders" compared to the young man who was the grandson of the former state representative of that area of Mo. And is it certainly sad if being outsiders was one of the reasons for the abuse heaped on the Coleman family.

  6. Well, I am thinking about "The Nail" in the October 20 posting. Sometimes we just have too many emotionally charged issues swirling around all at once, leaving us unable to cope with any of them. From our outside vantage point we have the luxury of contemplating the implications for the nature of God. We have the room to have a vantage point on a small town. We know how stupid high school football players can be, and young teen girls, too. So where do we start?

    We start by ignoring the nail. This young woman has been raped, and her family traumatized. She needs support and attention. She needs justice, although there the road gets more complicated. Simple justice might suggest several young men having their lives destroyed, and being added to the overwhelming numbers of Americans languishing in overcrowded prisons across America. Or, we might take this as a moment to consider whether a larger vision is needed, a rethinking of small towns, coming of age, rape, punishment, and, yes, even God.

    As a catch-phrase for all this, we might think of "restorative justice." I did not coin that phrase, but I bring it here to point out that our discomfort with this story is that it ultimately feels wrong on so many levels. The special prosecutor in this case may not have the luxury of searching for an ideal solution to the larger group of problems, but we do.

    What would Jesus do? How would Jesus heal Daisy, her rapist, his friends, his family, and Maryville? How would Jesus make all that just? I do not know. I do suspect it would not look like a typical, American, silver-bullet solution.

  7. Thanks, Craig, for once again posting very thoughtful comments. I especially like your last paragraph and your call for "restorative justice."

    It is a problem to know what justice would look like in this situation. Probably not long term incarceration for the offender. From what I have read, he is experiencing a lot of negative things in Warrensburg where he is a university student now. So he is experiencing some natural consequences for what he allegedly did. And I feel sorry for him, for how he messed up his life for an hour's "fun."

    But surely from Daisy's or the Coleman family's point of view, there needs to be more than that. There needs to be some recognition from the law enforcement agency and the courts that the crime of sexual abuse of a minor has been committed, some indication that the type of abuse Daisy received cannot be just brushed aside.

    But as you imply, there needs to be not only justice, but also healing for Daisy and her family, for Matt and his family, and for the whole town of Maryville. And all that may take years.