I don’t prefer to write in response to accusations too often. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Menno Simons lately, and am starting to follow his example of writing publicly, in response to attacks… Whatever the inspiration, I’m actually ‘going there’.
In the past few months I have been accused numerous times of hating Mennonites, or despising my heritage, or some other absurd attack. These accusations come, predominantly, from leadership and some who have stories of their own to hide. Mostly these accusations are like water on a duck’s back. Little impact to actually penetrate. But it does leave me with a whole lot of ‘feel sorry’ for everyone else getting soaked.
I never thought I’d actually address this, publicly, because, quite frankly, I’d rather disregard it and not give it space in the world wide web. Still, the last few weeks, as the rumours and attacks escalate, it has tumbled through my head too frequently to ignore. And, besides, usually when I write it out, it leaves.
I’m still not bothered by the accusations. They come from ill-informed attackers who have taken no time to really get to know me, and who have neither the character or the courage to sit down with me, one-on-one, to say what they are willing to say behind my back. The attacks are cowardly, at best, but if they help the other persons sleep at night, having done their religious duty to try and discredit me, so be it. Sleep tight.
And that’s about all I have to say about that part of it. Those of you, who are Mennonite and know me well, having sat with me, sometimes for hours at a time, know I do not hate Mennonites. You know I am not out to damage the church’s reputation, and that my goal is to help hearts find God, and experience healing through Jesus. (And I don’t spend time dreaming up memories that don’t exist, or creating scenarios that are not real, just for an excuse to attack innocent Mennonite men… or women. In fact, you know that I discourage putting energy into trying to remember things. Somehow this is a most popular accusation, and equally lame.)
On the contrary, I encourage clients to take what memories they have, or don’t to the foot of the cross. We talk, we pray, we cry… sometimes. And whether clients choose to confront perpetrators is always 100% their call.
It is not hatred, but love and compassion that compel me to do do what I do. I know what it is like to be trapped in shroud of silence and secrecy, having been victimized sexually, where crimes are covered up for the sake of reputation. I also know that my Mennonite background is not the only place this happens.
My heart, however, has the strongest connection to the Mennonite culture, because of my experience, and therefore I reach out to the Mennonite people. I understand the culture and, again, because of experience I have a very personal passion and compassion that I have for no other culture in the world. I have passion and compassion for others, but experience makes it personal with Mennonites. I will do ministry in any culture, with any people, anywhere God calls me. But I will never understand and identify as personally, anywhere else in the world, as the Mennonite people.
Common sense should be the authority on it, regardless of either side of the argument, that if the accusation was true, and I hated Mennonites, I would hardly invest my time and energy in helping. And, at the very least, I would put every effort into convincing people to leave the culture, if I hated it that much. But I don’t.
Only in one case have I done so, and only after the client indicated a desire to leave. In that case the client experienced demonic attacks, and horrific trauma, each time she was confronted with cultural connections. I believed then, and I believe still, that the connection needed to be broken, for her to discover any element of trust in God. And even in that case, I said I would help her transition back, if ever she wished to return.
In several other cases I encouraged individuals to consider attending one of the other Mennonite churches, because I knew they wanted to stay Mennonite, but the abuse and dysfunction of current situations was doing more harm than good. Churches that are more interested in covering up sin, and presenting a pretentious image of holiness and perfection, that is neither possible nor realistic, will never have my support, and I will never encourage anyone to stay. (And Menno Simons wouldn’t stand for it either!)
Holiness isn’t about excommunicating as quickly as possible, nor is it about silencing sinners (yes, it happens! And not only with Child Sexual Abuse cases. The truth is carefully kept under wraps, and controlled so as not to spill out, in some cases, because it would taint the image!)
That, my friends, is not holiness either. It’s not about making sin invisible, denying it exists, or ‘making things go away’, so you don’t have to look at them. It’s about acknowledging it, and inviting the blood of Jesus into the sin, the mess, the ugliness and the horror of it, and letting Him remove the stain of sin. Any other method leaves the sin to multiply, and the stain a glaring testimony that the church is not about Christ, but about empty religion.
Holiness is about giving God all that we are and do, including our sinfulness. (Remember what happened when Adam and Eve tried to hide their sin? God didn’t approve. He still doesn’t.) And it is not possible to give God our sinful selves, apart from repentance.
I despise pretentiousness, cover-ups, lies and false accusations. I despise them a lot. I also despise manipulations, whether in personal relationship, or in religious control. I despise when everything revolves around system, any system, and Jesus Christ is all but lost, if not lost entirely, and replaced by controls that have nothing whatsover to do with Him.
But I love people. I love helping the wounded. I love functioning in mutual respect with those with whom I disagree. And I love when another Christian culture makes Christ the centre of their culture, even if the culture itself is not something I would choose. I love focusing on Jesus Christ, and taking my eyes off of the stuff of life, and the opinions of my religion, or yours. That’s what I love. I love to have connections to churches that I feel confident will help their congregants.
A young woman, discontented with her church, recently told me she ‘wants out’. She’s ‘done’, and wants a new church.
“What are you looking for in a church?” I asked.
“A place where I can go and confess when I have sinned, without fear of being shamed,” was her answer.
And the prophetic words of Menno Simons have come to pass when he warned that punishing the repentant would encourage people to hide sin: “If we were thus to deal with poor, repentant sinners, whose transgressions were done in secret, how many would keep from repentance, through shame. God forbid that I should ever agree with, or act upon such doctrine! Lastly, I understand, they hold, that if any one, in his weakness, transgresses, and openly acknowledges his transgression, that they should consider him, then, as a worldling”
How far we have strayed from truth, while pointing fingers at, and stabbing in the back, those trying to wipe up the blood spatters, those trying to help the wounded in the aftermath of spiritual slaughter.
I have always wished to work with churches, in respectful relationship, in spite of our differences. And I still wish to do so. But it cannot be a one-way respect. It has to flow two ways.
I don’t wish one day to receive phone calls of support and encouragement, wishing me God’s blessings, and sitting in the homes of bishops, deacons, and ministers, only to hear criticisms and false accusations they made to others in the next breath, or the next day.
Tell me to my face the negative things you think, feel or believe. Call me what names you will, to my face, and not behind my back. Don’t thank me, and then stab me in the back.
Be direct with me, and whether you love me or hate me is of little consequence to me. At least you will have my respect because I value truth. I value honesty. I can work with it, even if it is negative. But two-faced attacks only serve to convince me that there is nothing trustworthy, nothing holy, and nothing safe in relationship. You wish for me to not go to the law (which, in some cases I am compelled to do), and yet, when I do, I am attacked left right and centre. It cannot be both ways. Work with me in mutual respect.
I do want to thank one CMCO minister, who have at least had the integrity to be honest with me. I respect deeply and appreciate very much that integrity. They acknowledge–and the husband in particular–concerns over the differences, in my views and practice, to theirs and they say it to me, in their home, on the phone, or wherever it comes up. They don’t harp on it, condemn me, or preach relentlessly. But when it comes up, they are honest. Them, I trust. We don’t agree. We don’t see eye to eye, and I’m sure we could both expend much energy being critical, but we don’t. And I know this, that we both want to help victims of abuse, and we both want truth.
For those who must label me, to feel better about themselves, I have no difficulty being referred to as the ‘Apostate Woman’. Jesus was the apostate and rebel of his day too, so I consider it somewhat of an honour, really. (And my response to that is that I may have apostesized from Mennonitism, but I have not apostasized from my relationship with God, and love for Jesus Christ.)
Having said that, I understand the mentality, and the need to label. It doesn’t offend me in the slightest, and if I were to meet those who I know call me this (or worse) I would greet them warmly. I know that some of these things come, at the very least, from a sincere conviction and it becomes a matter of conscience for them. So be it. As long as it is not a shallow attack, it influences no disrespect on my part.
Cowardly backstabbing and unkindness, however, are not at all Christ like. They don’t inspire confidence and I can’t encourage anyone to stay under that kind of leadership, nor am I willing to work with two-facedness. If you’re reading this and recognize it, and I know some who attack me do read this blog, all I ask for is mutual respect.
Help your people, and make it easier for me to help them. I prefer not to spend most of my sessions exploring what should be done about church membership because they don’t feel safe, have no trust.
Make it about Jesus Christ, and His example, His pattern, His healing. I will try to do the same.
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