It started in pleasant conversation, with a friend from my former denomination–CMCO Mennonite–and turned into an ‘as-pleasant-as-an-abuse-conversation-can-be’ interaction. We’re on the same side of this battle, her and I–both standing firmly against the wickedness of abuse–and in agreement that the silence must be broken, and help offered to victims, and perpetrators helped and held accountable.
I don’t know how it came about, exactly… I carry in my ‘knowledge compartment’ many ‘secrets’ for countless people, and about countless people. Now, they’re not really ‘secrets’ any more, if they are the stories and experiences of my clients, because as we work together, I walk them through the process of repentance, confession and bringing to light the hidden darkness. (Ephesians 5:13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever is made manifest is light.) Having exposed these things, the darkness is dis-empowered, the secret is broken, and the power is gone.
Still, they are ‘secrets’ in the sense that I am one of very few people whom they choose to tell, besides the people they have wronged or been wronged by, and whatever trusted friends they choose. These stories I carry, without a word to anyone, in my ‘knowing’. I don’t carry the burden of them, because Jesus has taken that burden.
The other kind of secrets, however, are a very different thing. The kind where I know horrible things and the person, or persons, involved have covered up and maybe even lied about it. These still are not mine to carry, but they do offer a different burden. It is troubling to know that ‘good Christians’, including leaders, would not take ownership for sins that have brought great spiritual destruction to others. It bewilders me. (And I don’t care if it happened before church membership, or before accepting Christ. That excuse is nonsense. Take ownership! )
And that is what popped out of my mouth…. The thing I said out loud is a ‘secret’ that I have known for several years, involving several church leaders. It was not told to me in confidence but still I cannot talk about it carelessly, and I don’t. Mostly I don’t tell details at all, unless I am conversing with someone who I think might be able to help, or influence change. I have watched as the aftermath unfolds and chains pass on, but there is nothing can be done on the legal front. (There has been some effort, by some people within the church, but things are managed quite carefully. And they are such ‘nice’ people, some of those with hidden things, that the wool is quickly pulled over the eyes of other leaders.)
Lest anyone think I ought to first go speak to my ‘erring brother’, I agree. And I have. I sat right in his house and asked him if he made the past right, and he said yes. And with one victim he did–at least he said his piece in church about having become involved in immorality. But when another case was revealed, and another man told me what this leader had done to him, I asked that man, “Didn’t he come back to you and ask for forgiveness?” (Because he had already told me he made things right.)
The man shook his head, weeping and said he never heard from him. “For three years he used me…” he said, tears flowing down his face.
And that is the troubling truth I spilled out a few days ago. “What do I do with this?” I asked. I laid out the picture, how the leader used the man, when they were teens, and how the leader had been used by his older brother–who is also a leader–who had a sexual relationship with his cousin, and all three of their children having continued to abuse others. And nothing can be done because everyone is past sixteen and those who know don’t want a kerfuffle in church, and those not in church have no proof. Just their tears, scars and struggles…
There was a pause.
“What am I supposed to do with all that? What is the right thing to do?” I asked again, earnestly. Her response completely blind-sided me. She is very thoughtful. Calculated.
“Now…” she paused, as if collecting her thoughts and arranging her words, just right. That, or she was’t sure how I would take what she had to say. “I think you are very balanced in what you have to say. You really know about how to work with this stuff…”
She paused again and came in with a most stunning question. “Have you ever thought about coming back to the church, and pulling with us?” She said some more things about that, but it all blurred together as I processed. No one had ever invited me to come back before.
“It would never work,” I said. I didn’t need time to think about it much. Because I already have. Probably a thousand times or more. “I would never be received back into any Mennonite church.” How to explain what I have seen play out in the lives of others…
“Why wouldn’t it work?” she asked ask sincerely, and innocently, as if not able to imagine the rejection that would be inevitable..
To write all that flashed through my mind at that moment would make a fine little book. To condense it, difficult.
“It just wouldn’t,” I said. “I wouldn’t be received.”
“What do you mean by that?”
I explained something she might have known, having watched me all those years ago, struggling to fit in. But it seemed to have evaded her. I think she just accepts me as I am, and doesn’t quite understand the fires I dance through, still, and did since childhood, for the things I say and do. For simply being who I am.
“I never fit in, even back then, before I had experienced another world, another culture. I don’t fit the mould; I’m not quiet, reserved… and could never go back to trying. I’m more of a Deborah… a Jael… I’ll put a nail through the head (figuratively speaking) if that is what it takes to do God’s work. I’m different… And I spent my whole childhood, a misfit, not able to line up. I couldn’t do that again. And, even if I did, I would be silenced so fast…”
Again she needed me to explain it. Her sweet innocence really believed that I could come back, follow the rules, and be a real asset to the healing and redemption in the church. To the ending of sexual abuse.
Oh how I wish! Would I be willing to go back if I knew I could change the lives of hundreds of children? Absolutely! Hated or not, and rejected or not, I could and I would! But, alas, as others have tried and I have watched them be put out of their churches for everything from ‘sewing discord’ to ‘bad attitudes’ to ‘lack of submission’. And, looking at the lies and rumours I have had to bear for my work, even being ‘outside’ the church–and I mean blatant lies, that someone conjured out of thin air, coming from leadership (I just heard of another deacon’s wife spreading lies this week)–I cannot imagine I would make it more than a day, or two.
Oh, sure, I said, there are some who I think would receive me well. Even leaders. And I mentioned one couple, not far from here, who I think really would try. Genuinely. They wouldn’t understand me, but they would love and accept me if I came back. I know it. But I would be a thorn in the flesh of the church, and the emotional, psychological and spiritual angst it would stir up, to experience on the inside what I have experienced from a distance, would throw the strongest of souls into deep depression.
Even at a distance that is a demon I have fought, almost daily, in working with ‘my people’, and dealing with sexual abuse in my cultural background. Almost daily, before my feet ever hit the floor, I lecture myself about God’s love and goodness, reminding myself that He has my back, that He knows the truth, that He is on my side. Because I know when I start moving my feet, and the rumours trickle in, I will need that ‘helmet of truth’ firmly in place. I know that if I am not grounded with Him, I will be a bleeding soldier at the end of the day, with no hope left. With Him, I am a bleeding soldier, but His blood gives me life, even as I seem to bleed out on the ground.
Would I go back to the church of my childhood? No. Because I know better than to believe that dealing with the sexual abuse within, would work any better as ‘one of them’ than it has from a distance.
Really, what she said was very sweet. It seemed sincere in every way. Not some manipulation to get me back inside the walls. Not at all. But a genuine belief that we could work together. And that was quite an honour, to be sure.
My prayer is that God will raise up godly men and women within, who have influence at a leadership level, to tackle this darkness head-on. My prayer is that walls crumble. That there is help for victims and perpetrators alike. It is the only way to bring an end to this violence, crime and evil.
So, while I may don the attire for a purpose, and though I will always have love and compassion for ‘my people’ in my heart, I think that question is settled, deep in my heart…
But to imagine it, for just a moment in my head, was fun. If I were to return, the bigger question would be ‘which kind of Mennonites?’ and I have already narrowed that down to two options…
It would be Amish or Old Order Mennonite, without question…
© Trudy Metzger
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