The incredible wave of disclosure around sexual abuse has dominated the front pages of our newspapers and our news feeds these past months.
Women, in particular, are saying, “It’s about time that the pain and suffering of victims are acknowledged. It’s time to bring into the open what has been covered up and supressed for far too long.”
I agree. I can’t believe what women have endured in terms of sexual harassment and abuse. Suffering alone in silence, they’ve assumed that they will not be believed or that it’s simply not safe for them to speak their truth.
The #MeToo movement has empowered victims to courageously step forward to disclose the tugly truth about sexual abuse and harassment, and to share the sometimes-debilitating impact on their lives. It’s time that their stories are believed, their truths embraced and their souls restored.
Don’t be surprised if the next wave of #MeToo disclosures begins to happen in our churches. Empowered by the courageous women and men who have recently stepped forward in the public sphere, my guess is that victims of abuse in the church will also refuse to be silent any longer. Like all victims, they deserve our support. Their pain and suffering need to be embraced by the faith community so that the power of God’s healing love can flow more freely.
It’s gut wrenching to hear the depth of betrayal that women have experienced within the supposed safety of their church community. It’s disheartening to hear the depth of pain and brokenness that they have borne in silence, sometimes for decades, sometimes even thinking it was their fault.
So how do we as churches prepare to embrace our sisters and brothers who may disclose to us the painful burdens they have been carrying?
We must first communicate that the church will create a safe space within which painful stories can be disclosed. Victims must know that the church is more ready to believe than disbelieve their disturbing accounts, and will refrain from twisting their stories into blaming the victim.
We must also recognize that pain does not necessarily resolve with time. It is just as fresh 20 or 30 years after the fact. There’s no expiry date on pain. It simply needs to be shared and healed.
Next, the church must demonstrate to victims that we will hold abusers to account. While asking abusers to take responsibility for their actions, we will also offer them support to repair the brokenness that has driven them to abuse.
Additionally, it’s imperative that we courageously name bad behaviour when we see it, build awareness about the dynamics of sexual abuse, and educate people of all ages about appropriate boundaries. Only then will our faith communities be as safe as possible for young and old alike.
I’m ready to begin a new movement: #MeTooForHealingAndSafeChurch.
David Martin is executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.