When I first started speaking openly about my story, and writing about it, I believed strongly that the particular ‘brand’ of Mennonite I was born into–the Russian/Mexican/Old Colony Mennonites–was infested with sexual abuse. And of the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonites, I believed the ‘brand’ we joined–a specific Conservative Mennonite group–and particularly the congregation we were in, was also affected to epidemic proportions.
For years already I knew it existed other places but couldn’t imagine that what happened in our church, community and family was familiar to others. We were the worst. The extreme. The exception. Or so I believed for those years. And even when I first started writing and speaking, I believed that to an extent.
Since then I have had individuals, from every congregation that I know of in Southern Ontario and a few further out, within our particular ‘brand’, come forward and expose it in their home congregation. And they are not all just the ‘I am a victim’ stories. These are stories of multiple victims, within one school, within one church. Occasionally told by the friend of a victim looking for ways to help that friend, and asking, “What do I do? How do I help?”, but most often told by the victims or a family member.
I will never forget the first ‘bold’ email that came through after I started ministry, from someone in my cultural background. I believe it was in 2010, before I had even blogged openly about my story. I read that email just before leaving for work and what the victim shared shook me up. I wept most of that half hour drive to work. I was aware already that there were other victims, because some had spoken to me, but I had not heard of even one victim in their congregation. That email exposed a case of multiple victims within that congregation and it overwhelmed me.
I do not know how bad it is in other ‘brands’ and ‘conferences’, as some call themselves. I know it’s there because I hear from them, but I don’t know to what extent. I did have a someone tell me in the last three days that, being of a less conservative Mennonite background, people ask her if what I write is true. Is it really that bad?
Being of very different Mennonite backgrounds, I wondered what the answer would be. In their family’s experience in the church, did it even exist? Was it unfathomable to them?
“So what do you say?” I asked.
“I say, ‘Yes, it is that bad!'”
I am very aware that it is not a Mennonite problem. It is a people problem, a ‘humanity’ problem, and it is ‘everywhere’, in every culture. But I stand by my claim that silence escalates that human problem, and therefore the rates increase in any closed culture where the topic is off bounds and victims are told not to talk, for the sake of image.
If it is true, as I believe, that at least 50% of the homes in my cultural background have been directly impacted by sexual abuse–meaning that there is at least one or more victims–then what hope is there? Should we all lay down and die, because the situation is hopeless, beyond redemption? Should we all turn a blind eye and live peacefully with them, and never dare to bring it to light? By no means! If there was no hope, I wouldn’t bother open this can of worms.
Jesus is the ‘hope’ for the epidemic. And I’m not talking only of the ‘neat and tidy’ Jesus we like to talk about. We need to know the Jesus who loved, who sacrificed, who had compassion. We need the gentle touch to heal as victims, and even to offer grace, forgiveness and hope to the perpetrators. It’s necessary for me, as a victim, to offer that to my perpetrators, and any other perpetrators with whom I meet.
But not without confronting the darkness of the sin and the crime. When it comes to confronting the hidden sin in the church, and the people who intentionally and blatantly cover it up, whether as leaders (accomplices through silence), or perpetrators, we need a bold Jesus who does not hesitate to confront religious pride. I’m talking about the Jesus who pulls the whip, chases out darkness, drives away evil and shouts boldly, “NOT IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE! HE ISN’T OKAY WITH THIS…. GET OUT!!”
We need the Jesus who calls out the religiously arrogant, those who are all about control and abuse of power, and image, while ignoring the broken hearts of people. (And it doesn’t matter whether that is 5%, or 30% or 80% of the church leaders or members.) We need Him because that Jesus isn’t afraid to expose generational sins. He doesn’t tiptoe around trying to make it sound palatable for the ‘well-meaning’ religious audience, who–God bless them–don’t know better.
No… That Jesus declares things boldly, and publicly in Matthew 23, and calls it as He knows and sees it where anyone within earshot can hear it. He didn’t take them aside for a private, one-on-one consult. He exposed evil and corruption and I have no doubt that He would do the same with the sexual abuse hidden in many of today’s evangelical and other churches.
I think Jesus would still say, “…all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments…. woe to you… hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you… hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. ….Woe to you… hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. …Woe to you… hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. …Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Jesus confronts boldly, so the victims will know whose side He is on. Only those who had bought the lie of religiosity were offended by His boldness. Only those who had something to hide had cause to silence Him. He was, without question, on the side of those who were abused.
And Jesus is still the hope for healing. He is the hope for truth to be revealed and lies to be exposed. He is the source of our identity, our value, our worth. In every situation, in every experience, He is the truth that transforms. He is the One who breaks those chains, and takes the shame on Himself. But the truth of our experience must be brought to light so that the lies are exposed, and the Truth of our real identity can be restored.
To that end I will continue to speak and give voice to those who cannot speak, so that hope is kept alive.
© Trudy Metzger
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