This book is essentially a lament that sexual abuse is prevalent, and a call to action. I hope to inspire churches to stand passionately with survivors, pursue justice by prosecuting abusers, and make our faith communities safer and braver. – Ruth Everhart, The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct (InterVarsity Press, 2020, 212)
My previous article on the removal of songs by David Haas from the forthcoming Voices Together hymnal offers one example of a church seeking to stand with survivors of sexual abuse. It’s part of the #MeToo reckoning described in Ruth Everhart’s excellent new book—not part of the book itself, but evidence of the same concern to face the church’s complicity in sexual abuse and misconduct and to address it.
The #MeToo Reckoning (InterVarsity, 2020) is hard to read since it includes stories of abuse by church leaders that should never have happened and stories of churches that inflicted further harm by abdicating their responsibility to protect the vulnerable and failing to call abusers to account for their actions. It is heart-breaking, disturbing, frustrating, and may well trigger tears, anger, and much more.
But this book is also a must-read for church leaders and anyone who works for the church whether employed or as a volunteer, to be aware of sexual abuse and misconduct in the church and how best to respond. Along with the stories of real people in the life of the church, it offers insights from Scripture, raises excellent questions, and points the way forward with practical, concrete actions for denominations and congregations. It is absorbing, honest, empowering, hopeful, and much more.
To give you a taste of why I so highly recommend this book, below are some selected quotes. To read the first chapter, see The #MeToo Reckoning.
On Jesus and feminism:
Inequality is certainly not what Jesus modeled. My love for Jesus is why I embrace the #MeToo movement. As imperfect as it is, this collective action highlights the ways that inequality breeds abuse. It has garnered the power to push back against that abuse, pushback that is long overdue. I feel frustrated when Christians treat #MeToo as a sinful movement dripping with the venom of feminism. Feminism is not a hateful ideology. It’s the belief that women are people too. (6-7)
On recognizing our need to do better:
People who agree to serve on a church committee aren’t necessarily prepared to deal with issues such as sexual harassment and abuse. It’s not surprising that they falter and fail. While very few believers set out to intentionally harm their church, pastor, or vulnerable persons, they come with assumptions that can do harm. We need to recognize and confront such assumptions in ourselves and others (54-55)
On being aware of our fears:
Evil resides in the actions and inactions of people who fear the wrong thing: who fear exposing evil when they should fear complicity with evil, who fear damage to reputation when they should fear damage to the vulnerable, who fear the demands of pursuing justice when they should fear the consequences of not doing so. (75)
On the system and secrecy:
Faith communities have been rocked by stories of pedophilic abuse and cover-up within the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. These stories pierce the soul. But any tight-knit faith community can become a breeding ground for abuse and secrecy, especially if it revolves around a charismatic leader, is reluctant to address issues of sexuality forthrightly, and is self-policed by an elite group. (80)
On Jesus’ story of the persistent widow:
It’s tempting to leave the pursuit of justice to others—let someone else persist and speak truth to power. It feels uncomfortable to be vocal, especially if we grew up with the message that women should be quiet and submissive. This parable sends a different, empowering message. Jesus lifts every vulnerable person from the margins and encourages her to seek her day in court. (98)
On the gift of lament:
It is never faithful to silence the vulnerable, even unintentionally. This kind of silence is not sacred or useful. It does not honor survivors or the God who loves them.
The noise of lamentation is sacred and useful. It sounds a warning. It creates a clamor. This is how it does its job. How else can the people of God express painful emotion, expose wrong-doing, and advocate for justice? Noise and exposure are the very gifts our society needs to receive. (211)
Thank you, Ruth Everhart, for writing so clearly and compellingly. And thank you to InterVarsity Press for supplying me with a review copy of The #MeToo Reckoning. As always, the choice to review and any opinions expressed are my own.
For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better: