In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more Christians are starting to speak out about the sexual abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of clergymen.
One such survivor is Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor, who recently wrote about the harassment and assault she experienced from her boss.
Everhart’s story is harrowing, and it explains the misconceptions many people have about why survivors don’t immediately report their abuse. Her pastor was aware of her financial situation, and he used it to his advantage, knowing how desperate she was to keep her job:
At this time I had been at the church only a year and felt trapped. If I applied to other churches, how would I explain the timeline? No one would hire a failure. [My husband] was handling everything at home while I was drowning in church duties. How could he take the master’s level classes he needed? The reality of being the sole support of a family of four was an enormous weight that I had not expected to shoulder.
While sexual predators exist in every profession, churches that teach male headship over women are breeding grounds for sexual abuse. In complementarian culture, women are held responsible for controlling male urges by having to dress modestly, while men get a pass for predatory behavior because they supposedly “can’t help it.” Complementarian churches say that men and women are created equal in God’s image, but the concern about male predators’ reputations over women’s safety reveals their true priorities. This “separate but equal” component of fundamentalist Christianity is one of the biggest stains on the religion’s reputation:
The question the church needs to ask itself is really quite simple: Why are women considered less valuable than men? Churches cannot respond effectively to sexual harassment and assault until we know the answer to that question. If we truly believe that women are image-bearers of God, why is the issue of sexual violence treated as a pink issue?
Yet I have hope. If churches can find the courage, they have the resources to open up these issues. Imagine what would happen if every preacher told the story of Tamar and examined it as instructive for the church. Imagine if every church exposed the abuses it hides. Imagine if every elder told a #MeToo story, either as one victimized or one victimizing. Imagine if we explicitly addressed our discipleship in relation to gender dynamics.
The more that survivors share their stories, the greater hope there is to shake the foundations of patriarchy, and start holding abusers accountable for their actions.
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