For several years now, in ministry, I’ve tried to be careful not to rock the boat too hard. I’ve tried not to influence people, in most situations, about church, preferring to separate the issues of sexual abuse from church struggles. And, for the most part, have even tried to not focus on many churches’ apparent avoidance of helping victims, or even acknowledging their pain and trauma. But that is history. The boat… it’s rocking. Whether I like it or not. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better, I fear.
The whole ‘respect our differences’ thing has become glaringly lopsided. Mostly it has become one-sided. I’m supposed to take the attacks in silence, and pretend like things are not as they really are, is how I understand it.
Some time ago I wrote about a leader (and/or his wife) who cautioned a young woman in her connections with me. We had met with this leader and his wife not long prior to that, and spent time talking, heart to heart–at least so we thought–and even prayed together. At the time it felt powerfully ‘good’–a God moment in time–and gave me hope that I had a safe place to encourage victims to go.
Having them caution the young woman about me didn’t shatter that hope completely. Sure, I was surprised, since I have been very respectful of the culture in dealing with clients, and since we had such a good evening with them, in what we felt was mutual respect. That night they had opportunity to challenge us, confront us, even attack us, but gave no indication that we were a problem. To the contrary, we felt a sense of kinship, in goal, if not method, and in faith, if not practice. So it did take us off-guard when they put the caution out there, but we understand from past experience all the fears that go with ‘outside influence’.
However, little by little it becomes clear that ‘working together’ with most of the conservative Mennonite churches, as much as that has been our goal and desire, is not possible. It is, without question, not something most of them are willing to do. (Several congregations and leaders are an exception to this.)
It was May 2013 when we met with the minister and his wife, and had a wonderful evening together. I encouraged him that night to talk to his fellow leader–a bishop, I believe–because of an abuse case from years gone by. What role the fellow leader had I could not say with certainty, but he was involved either as a victim or a perpetrator. Unfortunately the information given me was incomplete and shared in confidence, leaving me with only that much knowledge. I encouraged the minister to talk with the man–leader to leader, brother to brother–because I had good reason to believe that something was brewing and the case would erupt at some point. If his fellow leader was half as sincere as I had been told he was, I wanted to give him opportunity to come clean, regardless of his role, and bring it to light.
I thought the minister would do something either way and, before we parted ways, I assure him that I would update him if and when I knew more. With that we parted ways. Only a few days later I had more complete details of the case, and left a message for the minister on his phone, telling him that his fellow leader was definitely a victim, not a perpetrator. A message he says he never received, and I accept what he says, at face value. Nevertheless, given that he knew something was brewing I would have thought he would follow through, even without that confirmation.
In recent weeks another case, involving the same man who abused this leader years ago, has come to light. I called the minister after I heard of it, and asked if he had done anything about the information I gave him earlier this year. He had not. When I questioned as to why not, he said he didn’t know for certain if the man was a victim or a perpetrator.
This I don’t quite understand, since I had told him there was something brewing–and I have reason to believe that it still is–and if exposed it would mean this fellow leader would be questioned. If I knew my friend or fellow leader was potentially going to be drawn into a sexual abuse case, I would talk with him or her. It’s called caring for hearts and lives.
Awkward? You bet! But not half as awkward as watching things erupt, and then saying to that friend, “I’ve known for months and turned a blind eye. I’m sorry your life just exploded.” (Or whatever one might actually say in a moment like that, if not pretend one had no idea.)
I also asked this minister what his issues are with me. He had several charges against me. The first, I don’t wear a veil. (We’ll disagree on that one. Respectfully. At least I will. Why that thing comes up for question before the question of ‘does she know Jesus as her saviour’, in many cases, is a bit concerning to me. But every denomination needs a baby to pamper, I suppose. If it isn’t the veiling, it’s speaking in tongues or some other thing we idolize.)
The second charge? I don’t keep confidences. The evidence? This blog. And he was quite sure he could identify many of the characters in the blogs. Not likely, but okay. (Granted, he would recognize himself in approximately 3 blogs plus this one, as well as the young woman. And I don’t think I’m saying anything here I have not said to him.)
Hmmm… And yet I have permission, or even direct requests to write the stories I share here. Even my Old Order friend from New York gave her consent, and I read the blog to her. Obviously the encounters I have–such as with Bishop Henry in my previous post–I don’t ask for permission. These are my experiences and I don’t need consent. Other stories, however, I told the minister, I use with permission.
Well, the ‘not keeping confidentiality’ card fell flat so he spoke more directly and said he has a problem with it any way, even with permission. When I questioned why it is such a problem, he talked about all the abusers out there who are so sorry for what they’ve done.
When I told him how healing it has been for some of the victims whose stories I have shared–mentioning Abigail’s story specifically, as one example–he said he’s not arguing that. But–I understood him to say–my writing is too one-sided and doesn’t give voice to the perpetrator…. That I shouldn’t tell the victims stories without telling the perpetrator’s stories too.
We batted that around for a moment, and he reiterated his thoughts and said he questions my motive. That’s fair. I certainly question his motives too, and have lost trust in him. And I told him so, and disagreed on my telling of ‘bad’ stories in Christian circles.
I asked him if he’s read his Bible. The Bible is full of bad stories. What about Rahab, the harlot? That’s not a nice story at all! or Tamar? and Kind David who lusted and used Bath Sheba, then murdered Uriah to cover his sin? Not to mention Peter cussing away by the fire, shortly before Jesus tells him to feed His sheep.
And, last but not least, there’s Genesis 34, the story of Dinah being raped. When Dinah’s brother’s discover what happened to their sister, they do what any man of integrity will do, and they call it what it is–evil, and a violation of her womanhood, a thing that should not be done. And they did that, even though Shechem was a prince of the country. It wasn’t about status, influence, power, money, or any other thing. It was about truth, and justice. And these brothers saw to it that justice was served.
I’m not suggesting we get all the perpetrators what they deserve. Truth is, they deserve harsh judgement. All of us do. None of us deserve grace. Still we all need it and long for it, and as believers we should extend it. Grace, however, is not in any way related to covering for the sinner. Open confession, nothing hidden, brings freedom.
And God forbid that we hide truth and silence victims or stop sharing their stories to protect the perpetrators–no matter how sorry the perpetrators are, or how bad they feel. This imbalance of protecting the ‘image’ of perpetrators, while trying to silence the voice of victims, has tragically become a trademark of many churches. Just what is the driving force behind that, I can only speculate, so I’ll keep those thoughts to myself. It certainly isn’t because so many perpetrators are so sorry, or repentant, that’s for sure.
The perpetrators I know who are sorry–and I have many perpetrators in my circle of friends–are not so concerned about keeping their stories hidden. This week alone I had private conversations (which my husband also has access to, lest someone gets all distracted with that detail) with three men who told me of their crimes. These men are sorry. They have repented. They are men of honour in spite of what they have done. They have wept for their sins, laid the truth naked on the floor, and have accountability in place–the greatest accountability being their openness. They have taken ownership, with no pressure on the victims to be silent in order to protect their own pride. I trust these men. These men encourage me to keep going. (And some have even given me permission to use their stories.)
So why is it that the only people who seem to have a huge problem with my writing and my ministry, are those who have hidden stories… those who lead churches whose image seems more important than truth or people’s heart… or those whose family and friends are (alleged or convicted) perpetrators who are hell-bent on hiding the truth?
Why is it that victims who have forgiven, and perpetrators who have repented, are the ones who encourage me to keep going? Are they not a good authority on this topic? Do they not know the freedom that comes, to both sides, when truth is exposed and dealt with?
And why is it that those who oppose me, and accuse me of breaking confidentiality or ‘spreading gossip’, are the very ones spreading lies and gossip about me? The stories I tell are true, confirmed, and used by permission.
It is a thing that bewilders me how there seems to be two sets of rules–one for me, and one for them. Church leaders, and many of their congregants, have no problem talking about me behind my back–by name, and making up many colourful stories–but are not able to say it to my face. Yet they have a problem with me writing about anything to do with their culture, even without using names, congregation names or offering any information that would allow the casual reader, who is not involved in specific situations. to figure out who I write about. Of course those involved will recognize themselves, and I’m okay with that.
In recent days and weeks I have heard ridiculous stories, about myself. Very entertaining, to be sure… The one I heard with two separate twists, so I’m not sure which is the official story… Apparently I pretended to be a cleaning lady, or representing some business, in order to get into an elderly Mennonite couples’ home. Once inside, I supposedly stomped my feet, yelled, threatened and accused an old man. The son-in-law–also a good conservative man–said they could charge me with harassment for what I did!
The story is too far-fetched and absurd to even comment on. But the greatest irony in it is that, after all my terrible threatenings, I received a phone call from the old couple three days later, inviting me back to their home. They must have enjoyed the show and wanted to watch the sequel. I’m quite a fan of humour and comedy myself, so I get that.
The other irony, I suppose, given that I was so vile and they so innocent, is that their first question, on the phone that day, was, “Are you going to call the police? Will we go to jail?”
To which I responded just as I had said in their home, that the victim simply wanted to extend forgiveness. That was her motive, and I had no vested interest. I didn’t even know them, or their family. (Though that has changed, as family and their rumours have crawled out of the woodwork, landing pretty close to my circle of friends.)
Admittedly, when people add these colourful details to my life–however untrue–it makes for much more interesting storytelling, on their part, I reckon. It’s mostly a dreadful waste of time and energy to tell such lies, and produces nothing redemptive, but that’s not mine to carry.
To the best of my ability, and for the healing of victims and perpetrators alike, I will continue to write stories that bring light to the darkness. I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless–those victims whose lives have been wrapped in a shroud of darkness and fear.
For those who must criticize me for telling stories, don’t forget to read your Bibles and remember that nothing has changed. People still try to hide truth, just as Achan and others did. And God still brings them to light, and uses stories to touch lives.
And, as the case of the man who was caught molesting a young child–the case I had spoken to the minister about–criticize me if it makes you feel better, but I have a heart for that man too. And I can’t help but wonder… if some victim had been allowed to speak out thirty-some years ago… if it had been safe to share and they had been heard and the perpetrator confronted… I wonder if maybe, just maybe, a little boy would have his innocence today. Wouldn’t it have given the man accountability and made him think twice? And what if he had gotten help?
What blood will be on the hands of the churches who discourage bringing things to light? Yes, out in the open, without apology, even if it hurts the perpetrator. It can be done with redemption, grace and forgiveness. The perpetrator’s reputation will not be quite so ‘perfect’, but it will be more real. And if done with grace, it will make him a better man, and her a better woman.
Maybe then the next generation of children will have their innocence and purity, and the church will again be a healing light in the world. That makes this fight worth it for me. So I press on…
© Trudy Metzger
Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”
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