The #MeToo Reckoning
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
January 24, 2020
The hashtag #MeToo went viral in 2017, though the phrase was first used by Tarana Burke in 2006 to raise awareness of sexual assault.[i] It wasn’t long after that I noticed on Twitter a hashtag #churchtoo, where women began sharing stories of sexual abuse and assault they faced in the church. However, the response of churches and denominational bodies has often been silence. Only in recent years, after exposure through the media of the pedophile priest problem, has the Catholic church issued any statements and apologies. However, this is not a Catholic problem. This is a churchwide problem. The #churchtoo hashtag contains victims’ stories, but no confessions, no admissions of wrongdoing by local church and denominational leaders, and no offers of accountability or finding a way forward.
Ruth Everhart courageously shares her experiences and others in “The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct.”[ii] Telling her personal story of serving as an associate minister and surviving assault by the senior pastor, Everhart also shares how the church covered up and silenced her story. She is not alone. Everhart weaves in her story, the stories of other victims, and stories from Scripture of abuse and assault. She lifts up women’s and children’s voices who have often been silenced, concluding each chapter with questions of what the text asks us, and what her own hope is for the church.
Ruth Everhart courageously shares her experiences and others in “The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct.” Everhart weaves in her story, the stories of other victims, and stories from Scripture of abuse and assault. She lifts up women’s and children’s voices who have often been silenced, concluding each chapter with questions of what the text asks us, and what her own hope is for the church.
While I read “The #MeToo Reckoning,” there were moments I had to pause, not only for the horrific stories of what these women have faced, but because I’ve heard these stories before. Yes, in American Baptist Churches. Stories of male pastors and leaders who were overly affectionate to female clergy and lay leaders. Stories of pastoral relations committees shrugging off complaints, or claiming that the female associate pastor or leader must have done something to “lead him on.” I have heard stories of complaints brought to Ordination Standings Committees and assurances that the male pastor had made a mistake, and this would “not happen again.” The complaint dismissed.
Even more troubling were the stories of congregational and denominational leadership hushing up the matter. Hiding behind confidentiality to silence victims. That this should not be talked about. The intention stated was to not cause further harm, but because no one could talk about why a leader was dismissed, rumors spread. People took sides. Those who suffered abuse were further victimized by the silence of church leadership. Those accused of abuse often went on to abuse again because the accusation was never made public. Perhaps the greatest damage done to the church overall has been its silence on the matters of abuse.
Everhart asks the question, “But where is the church? Instead of exposing wrongdoing and calling for justice, it is too often the culprit. Even worse, it’s the place where culpability hides.”[iii] Instead, Everhart challenges the church to become a place of healing, and in order to do that work that Christ has called us to do—to bring healing and hope to the world—we cannot be silent when it comes to abuse.
“The #MeToo Reckoning” is a bold and brave book. Everhart doesn’t shy away from sharing the details. She names names when necessary. She lays out the processes and structures that have failed to protect victims and instead silenced them to protect abusers. Everhart shares the stories and ongoing struggles of those recovering from abuse in the church. While most of the stories are from women, the author also shares the stories of boys who were abused by pastors and leaders, and challenges us to think of what our silence says to boys and men in our churches. When we notice pastors and leaders who violate boundaries without repercussions, how is that behavior modeled for boys and men in our congregations?
The stories are heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. Everhart is explicit in her details and states a content warning at the beginning of her book. However, she also offers a way forward for the church. It’s not only about accountability and prevention, but the necessity of lament in our church life. Only through confession and lament can we find a way forward in justice for those who have been victims of abuse in our churches.
“#MeToo is not a women’s issue; it’s a human issue. It’s not a feminist movement; it’s a justice movement. If churches will link arms with this liberating work, our faith communities can become places of healing.”[iv] As Everhart leaves a word of hope at the end of each chapter, my hope is that American Baptists can read these words, look at our own polity and how our structures have protected abusers rather than liberating victims, and how we, too, may become churches of hope and healing.
The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA. She received an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.
[ii] Everhart, Ruth. The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity Press, 2020.
[iii] Ibid, pg. 4.
[iv] Ibid, pg. 7.