With #MeToo not losing any steam, women increasingly are speaking up, now saying: #WhyIdidntreport

 

The #MeToo movement has given women the impetus to speak up about all manner of sexual violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. What so many have gone through, and continue to go through, is just awful. But they are speaking up. Good for them speaking up. I believe them. What they are saying takes courage (Guts!). How could I not be proud of them.

In fact, trending in Twitter just today (9/23) is hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Because of Christine Blasey Ford speaking up about being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women now weighing in with their stories of sexual abuse, many for the first time. The vast majority of these are not simple, innocent sexual harassment allegations. Most are accounts of serious sexual assault and violence. They are accounts of being raped, sometimes repeatedly over several years. This is just awful beyond awful. It is sexual violence of the worst kind.

And just think for a minute about all the women who were abused within the confines of the Church, in whatever fashion.  And no, it is not just the young women, but also so many young men, especially within the Catholic Church. Just stop and think of the multitudes who were abused and have kept silent for decades.

If you say, “That just makes me sick.”  Well, that ought to make you sick. That would be a proper reaction. You are getting it.

I never have seen anything like this. The floodgate has flung open. Finally, they feel compelled to tell their story. Are they believable?  Of course.

Search #WhyIDidntReport on Twitter and read the accounts for yourself. Get ready for some very sobering, revealing admissions made, in some cases, for perhaps the very first time. Now that takes courage.

With Christine Blasey Ford accusing Judge Brett Ford of sexual abuse way back when they were both teenagers, we are seeing hundreds of women now speaking up, telling their story, telling the truth, saying, in effect, “Now it’s my turn to talk.” Most of their stories are credible and compelling. I am glad they are being told. They are sad. They will make you mad. They will trouble your spirit. They will make you sigh and shake your head.

And they should. The women are doing the right thing by courageously speaking up.

The #MeToo movement, barely a year old, has unleashed in the women of the this country the courage to speak up, at long last. They will have their say! Frankly, this #MeToo movement has no signs of abating. Just today Christine Blasey Ford has agree to testify on Thursday (9/27) before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

This is going to be quite the week in the news. I can only imagine, as I write this on Sunday evening. You think there might be a lot of huge decisions weighing in the balance? Don’t you just know it.  It’s incredible, isn’t it? While Dr. Ford speaks up with her accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, he is vehemently denying her accusations. So, stay alert and hold your breath. Again, I can only imagine will happen by week’s end.

The patriarchy (largely White men) that has run this county and most of the churches, well, forever it seems — Protestant and Catholic — is being challenged by thousands of women and men in a ways that we have not heretofore seen. I certainly never have seen anything like this in my life.

Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are reeling. In July we saw Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resign. A Cardinal almost  never resigns in the Catholic Church. So many of the faithful, once happy with Pope Francis, are not pleased with how he is handling some much of the abuse in the Church.

Following Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation, the awful news broke in August of countless priests sexually abusing more than 1,000 children covering 70 years in the 8 Catholic dioceses in  Pennsylvania, making Catholic and Protestants alike just sick to their stomachs.

The Protestant Evangelical church has not escaped. Earlier this year Bill Hybels, founder and long-time leader at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, resigned because of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by several former Willow Creek woman, some of them former staff members who accuse Hybels of sexual abuse and harassment, some of it going back 25 or more years. While Hybels denies it, I believe the women, as do increasing numbers of people.

(No, never would I have imagined Hybels “reign” coming to such an unceremonious end. I think you do understand that these thoughts are coming to you from a guy who has read almost all of Bill Hybels’ books, attended many of his conferences and been inspired by many of his motivational talks and outstanding sermons.  I believed in Hybels. I pulled for him. I prayed for him. I was glad for him to carry the evangelical torch, as were thousands of other evangelical leaders across the world. And when the accusations against Hybels just kept surfacing, I was really upset. I was very disappointed in Hybels and in the Willow Creek elders.)

In fact, there was so much misinformation, confusion and trust emanating over this whole debacle, Hybels’ co-heir apparentsHeather Larson and Steve Carter — along with all the elders at Willow Creek, resigned.  How incredible, how crazy, is that? This is one of the largest mega-churches in the United States.

A few thoughts about what to consider doing?

  • Pray for the Church. Christ is the Head of the Church, and the Church will Triumph.
  • Pray that God will protect the women and men coming forward with their stories.
  • Remember that Jesus said his Kingdom is not of this world.
  • And remember that our unshakable trust is in Christ’s final return, not in any world system. Remembering that frees us from the anxiety of having the wrong person in the White House, the wrong person in the congress or senate, or even the wrong person in the Supreme Court. Don’t forget to sing the Psalmist’s warning: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3)

 

I’m afraid it has come to this

 

In addressing how conservative Christians are responding to the Kavanaugh allegations in the September 18 issue of Slate, Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior said:

“I don’t expect we will ever know the truth about what did or did not happen. But as an evangelical Christian, I am convinced Dante himself could not have devised a more fitting circle of hell for my faith community than the one in which we find ourselves: being destroyed from the inside out by the sexual sin we spent decades pointing out everywhere but in our own house. For us, this is the real trial.”

Who of us very recently hasn’t thought about the likes of these poignant words?

If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a great nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.  

Reinhold NiebuhrThe Irony of American History, 1952

(Niebuhr was a long-time professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the author The Serenity Prayer.)

Irony

 

 

Love and Truth: Opposite sides of the same coin

Image result for resolving conflict

 

The Apostle Paul says when we speak the truth in love we will in fact grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who the head of the body, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 4:15).

As I counsel with pastors nearly every day, the most frequent topic is some conflict in which the pastor finds himself. Well, imagine that?  Imagine it?  You’ve probably lived it — many times!

Having met hundreds of times with pastors I usually see one of 4 conflict responses:  Passive, Evasive, Defensive and Aggressive.

Generally speaking, those who emphasize love in responding to conflict — I’d say over-emphasize love — are passive and evasive when in addressing conflict. Passive folks tend to hold onto self-love and not always be very forthright. They play their cards close to the vest.  “I’m not going to lower myself and take on this fight,” they may reason. In fact, they can be so passive they can’t see the real issue at stake. Or perhaps they are afraid to see it.

Evasive folks can also over-emphasize love. But they might avoid self-love and self- truth altogether. They can run and hide before you can blink your eyes.

I know both of these styles quite well.  I can go there quickly, if I am not fully engaged and present. (In fairness, I am a lot better in being forthright than I was 25 years ago. By God’s grace and a lot of work at being more honest.) Frankly, those were the conflict responses in the family in which I was raised. I often smile and say, “I was raised in the land of numb.” And don’t we all know, every family puts the “fun” in dysfunction.

Pastors I meet with usually are real lovers. That’s why they chose to become a pastor in the first place. They were drawn to people. Loving people is what they like about the work of ministry. They speak the language of love. But so many times when I have seen pastors respond to conflict either passively or evasively I actually see them over-emphasize love.

That over-emphasizing of love can lead them to be “dishonest” when they respond to conflict.

You have seen that, haven’t you? Maybe even in the way you respond to conflict. A time arises when you really need to stand firm and defend the truth and your response is, “Well guys, I just love everybody. Now come on. Let’s get along. We all know this is Jesus’ church.”  And doggone it, the issue is totally avoided.

Truth is, they don’t love everybody. They certainly don’t like everyone, but they say they do.  What’s really happening is that they are shutting down, closing up and going to numb.  In so doing, they become dishonest and conflict can’t be solved with a spirit of dishonesty running around the room. The real issue gets summarily swept under the rug and the conflict is not solved. On the outside, it looks like everything is “just fine.”  The pastor who is a lover becomes the hero — a faux hero. Everyone hugs and kisses and says, “Whew. Let’s try to do better the next time a conflict arises.”

The chance to be a real peacemaker is lost, as the passive, evasive responders default to keeping the peace at all cost.  In so doing, they become the great “Sweep it under the Carpet Kings” of the world.

Then you have those pastors whose default is to stand for the truth, almost immediately. They will jump in the ring immediately. To them, truth matters, almost more than love. It can certainly appear that way. When a conflict arises they usually respond defensively. They guard the truth about themselves, defending self-truth and self-love. Some may even respond to conflict aggressively, forcing the truth.

Defensive, aggressive responders to conflict almost always ask, “What is the truth here?” In so doing, they can over-emphasize truth and become indifferent. “This is the truth,” they say. “It’s obvious. If you can’t see that, well, that’s just tough. If you can’t take the truth, this may not be a good place for you to serve.” That kind of indifference can make people feel stupid and humiliated and often move on and look for another church or even quit church altogether.

I think you see my point here. Each style to responding to conflict is negative because it falls short of true, biblical peacemaking principles. Each style can lead to frustration and failure because each is self-centered, based on how we see and promote ourselves. Each can exchange biblical love and truth for self-truth and self-love.

Your conflict style is the place where you will tend to sin most often — against God, others and yourself. Your style comes from your personality and your culture and is learned over time. If you recognize and own your negative response style, you’ve taken the first step to understanding your part in conflict and how your response actually can make the conflict worse. Knowing your style can help you discover how you need to change your mind and behavior in present and future conflicts.

We all need to speak the truth in love.  So I ask myself: Do I need to be willing to jump in the ring more when conflict arises? Or do I need to pull back and listen before I pounce? Are there ways I have hurt or added to the conflict with a person?

Maybe God wants to change my mind, or your mind, in the way you handle conflict. If you ask him, he may give you the steps to take, steps that will include confession, forgiveness and being reconciled with those you have been in conflict for far too long.

Speaking the truth in love comes as God transforms us from the inside out. Let him!

The Pope and the Catholic Church are facing a major test

Insightful religion columnist Terry Mattingly addresses the huge challenge facing the Catholic Church in his September 10 column.

Mattingly writes about a letter to the Holy Father signed by about 100 prominent Catholic women, challenging, really imploring Pope Francis to speak up and be more forthright about the sexual abuse and sexual misconduct among so many priests in the Church. It’s a frank, tough letter by these Catholic women and I can only imagine that Pope Francis is really feeling the heat.

This is a very tough hour for the Church. She badly needs our prayers.

What would compel a mandated reporter to act?

I read this Op-ed piece in the New York Times this morning (8/30).  I do think the Church is at one of those tipping points — not just the Catholic Church, the Whole Church!  What to do about sexual abuse, especially among the clergy?  Clergy in the Catholic Church, certainly! And the Protestant Church, certainly!  Clergy in nondenominational churches. There ain’t nobody getting out clean out of this one.

How can abuse of any kind be prevented? The priests in Pennsylvania showed priests can’t police themselves. Well, they didn’t. They kept their secrets for decades. That’s just sick.

Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church, a man I have deeply admired over the years, tried to convince elders and leaders at Willow Creek that he could police himself. Well, if you have followed the news over the last few months, I guess we know how that worked out for Hybels. Thank God the 8 or so women that accused Hybels were believed and found to be credible. Hybels resigned. It was very sad, a terrible mess. His chosen successors then resigned, along with all the Willow Creek Church elders.

What would work, if anything, to allow the Church to move forward with purpose, integrity and humility at this point? Would a mandated reporter even know who to call?  Would you make the call, even if it meant calling law enforcement authorities directly and immediately? I hope so. But would a priest make that call? Would he know who to call? And of course so many priests have been the perpetrators.

Is it any wonder that millions and millions of sincere Christ followers within the Catholic Church are shocked, angry and confused that priests lived secret lives, abusing child after child, decade after decade, then being moved “under cover of darkness” to this diocese or that one? It’s awful, just a terrible problem.

The Op-ed piece below by Marci  Hamilton is worth reading and pondering.  Tough, tough situation… May God have mercy.

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Let There Be Light, in Church

Priests and other clergy members should have to report cases of suspected child sexual abuse, however they hear about them.

By Marci Hamilton

Ms. Hamilton has worked for decades on child sex abuse cases and is the author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.”

The Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis blankets the globe in darkness. We are at a tipping point — or at least we ought to be.

The unmasking and resignation of the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, placed alongside the recent release of an exhaustive grand jury report in Pennsylvania that describes in withering detail more than 1,000 grotesque abuses, has reinforced the growing public sentiment in favor of eliminating the statutes of limitations for child sex abuse. Under current law, a vast majority of victims will receive no justice because of an arbitrary procedural deadline.

To pierce the darkness of clerical knowledge of child sex abuse and to obtain justice for the victims, we need to change the statutes of limitation for these crimes, but that is not enough. To begin to see the light, we must also make clergy members mandated reporters of suspected abuse in every state the way teachers and doctors already are — and we need to begin to think about eliminating the confessional privilege.

Only one-third of abuse victims report what happened to them while they are still children. This is because of the power chasm between them and their abusers, threats from perpetrators and sometimes the children’s inability to comprehend fully what has been done to them. The insidious effects of trauma from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and other medical problems also hinder reporting. For all these reasons, the average age for victims to come forward is 52.

Clergy members are more likely to know about abuse than teachers or doctors. Yet just under half of the states do not mandate that clergy members report suspected abuse to the authorities or child protective services. When religious organizations keep these facts circulating internally while failing to disclose them to the public, the children suffer.

For religious organizations, there are other factors that reduce the likelihood that law enforcement and protective services will learn of suspected abuse. Even those states that treat clergy members as mandated reporters still may not require reporting in circumstances where the information was gleaned through a “clergy-penitent” communication. All states recognize a confessional privilege that can immunize clergy members from reporting if they learn the facts of reportable crimes through one-on-one communication with a parishioner.This privilege is not limited to the Catholic faith. A few states have explicitly or implicitly denied the privilege — New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and West Virginia — if the issue is child abuse or neglect. But elsewhere confessional privilege can operate as a high bar to child protection.

Despite a so-called zero-tolerance policy for child sex abuse, the Vatican has ordered Catholic clergymen to report suspected crimes according to the law of the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. Translation: Clergy members need only report in those states where the law actually requires them to report, and, in many cases, if the information is discovered outside the confessional. The reality is that religious lobbyists fight mandated reporting with vigor and therefore the Vatican is cleverly ordering its clergymen to report only where its lobbyists have failed to keep them off the list of mandated reporters. Lifting the confessional privilege for any reason is a matter of intense dispute, but our current experiences with the depth and breadth of child sexual abuse tell us what must be done.

Australia is ahead of the curve on these issues, as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which made recommendations that went as far as condemning confessional privilege. Despite the fact that perpetrators have many victims and that children are inherently vulnerable, the clerical pushback in Australia has been intense. Lawmakers, however, should not defer to politics in the face of the epidemic of child sex abuse. As important as confessional privilege is to some clergy members and religious organizations, they need to finally realize that their mission is poisoned as long as it is consonant with the sexual abuse of children.

Weak penalties have also made reporting more of a choice than a mandate — penalties can be as little as a small fine. While one failure to report is dangerous and should be subject to more serious punishment, a systemic failure to report is far more problematic and deserves escalating penalties. The Pennsylvania grand jury report included a recommendation that all states should consider: For those institutions that repeatedly fail to report suspected abuse, the penalties should be clearer. They should also be increasingly onerous, including significant financial penalties and potential jail time for higher-ups who covered up abuse.

For a truly child-centered system of justice, we cannot trust religious institutions to police themselves.

Marci Hamilton (@Marci_Hamilton) is a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania and the chief executive of Child USA.

 

Sexual abuse suffered by far too many women — Genesis 34 and Dinah

Last Sunday — August 19 — I attended New Hope Community Church in northern Michigan and heard Pastor Craig Trierweiler address sexual abuse from the narrative found in Genesis 34.

I don’t think I had ever heard a sermon on the topic addressed so specifically. Watch the video. This young pastor does an excellent job preaching a sermon on an incredibly vital and timely topic in a sermon titled: Jesus — True and better innocent sufferer.

 

Educated … I mean REALLY educated!

This amazing story is about an education that most of us can only imagine, but wouldn’t want to if we knew what it entailed. Tara Westover brings her “education” out in the open by telling a story that will take your breath away!

Now just 32, Tara Westover never had any formal education until she was 18 and enrolled as a Freshman at Brigham Young University [BYU]. Her parents didn’t believe in schools. She wasn’t even home schooled. But by 27, just 9 years after starting out at BYU, she was awarded a PhD in history from Cambridge University in England. This memoir tells her amazing story.
The youngest of 7 children in a survivalist, anti-establishment, anti-medicine unconventional Mormon family in rural Idaho, Tara Westover’s new memoir EDUCATED tells of growing up without any formal education. The Westover’s were rugged individualists of, to my mind, the worst kind. They didn’t trust anyone. Though her older siblings were somewhat home schooled, by the time Tara, child number 7, came of age she was mostly left to fend for herself.

Her father ran a junk yard, selling scrap metal and her mother was a herbalist, turned home-grown mid-wife.  Tara basically learned midwifery, in effect, by assisting her mother at births in rural Idaho. (For a girl who had no formal education, talk about an education. Whew! She describes experiences when she was 13 and 14 of helping her mother attend at the births of babies, sometimes in the dead of winter driving in the middle of the night on treacherous rural Idaho roads. I found myself saying aloud: “Holy Cow! What an education.”)

Westover’s father, in particular, was controlled and driven by fear the government was after him, poor mental health (perhaps insanity in the last few years) and the need to totally control the fate of his wife and his children.

Growing up, the Westover children heard countless lectures (1 to 2 hours in length) combining the Book of Mormon, the Bible and his own fear of the government coming to get him. He repeatedly insisted that it was only a matter of time before the government came to their rural property and the world literally would come to an end. The word to his children: “Prepare for this!”

By the time Westover was a teen-ager of her old brothers, clearly emotionally disturbed Westover writes, began severely abusing her and constantly fighting and demeaning her. On more than one occasion, he even threatened to kill her, although when her parents found out, they told her he didn’t mean it. Tara learned how to fight back and survive, but that abusive behavior was it for Tara.

With the help and encouragement of another older brother, she decided to study for the ACT so she could maybe go to college, as this older brother had. He convinced her that college was the way to make the break and lead the life she could only imagine. Tara had taught herself to read and write and somehow, through utter determination, and a will of steel, scored high enough on her ACT score to be accepted into BYU.

She writes that her knowledge of history and the world was so small when she arrived on BYU’s campus that she raised her hand during a freshman class and asked what the holocaust was, after one of her professors talked about it.  Realizing the dearth in her education ultimately compelled Westover to learn. And study and learn she did! During the next 9 years she had to be one of the most determined young women on planet earth.

Tara Westover graduated magna cum laude from BYU. Then with the help and encouragement of a BYU professor who saw her tremendous potential, she applied and was accepted into the PhD program at Cambridge University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.

After jumping into the Cambridge experience, though, Westover had doubts, big doubts, feeling that she was in way over her head. She felt she was just the dumb daughter of a rural Idaho junkyard survivalist. She felt like a failure and the first year she determined to give up and quit.

Finally she started getting personal counseling. Her perspective began to change and her self-esteem began to grow. The regular counseling, along with a Cambridge professor that told her one of her essays was one of the best he had read in 30 years of teaching at Cambridge, filled Westover with hope, and she pushed on.

Part of her doctoral studies included a year-long fellowship at Harvard, another amazing opportunity.(It was while at Harvard that her parents visited her, after having not seen her for years. Both insisted on staying in her tiny dorm room with her. During the visit her father told her that he had determined she essentially was demon-possessed. But he insisted that he could cleanse her of her wickedness and accept her back into the family if she would own up to all the terrible educational decisions her father felt she had made, along with submitting to the authority that he felt he deserved from her but had not been given.)

Tara stood firm in her resolve and today remains separated from her parents and many of her siblings. Two of Tara’s brothers and she have PhDs, while four siblings who remain in rural Idaho do not even have high school diplomas. Somehow Tara is not bitter and has been able to self-differentiate from her parents and choose the life she wants.

This memoir is the tale of a narcissistic, emotionally and spiritually-abusive father and one girl’s victory in becoming herself in spite of being vilified and gas lighted.

One quotation stays with me: “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father that raised her.

Kudos to the 32-year Westover. Her book now has spent 25 weeks on the New York Times best-selling list for nonfiction. It has garnered nearly 2,000 reviews on Amazon, most of them 5-star reviews.  She is spending much of 2018 traveling in the U.S. and the U.K. lecturing about her book. Check out her website.

Highly Recommended!!  Reading it you’ll get the education of a lifetime…

 

 

“Just Mercy” … an outstanding book to be reckoned with

 

In early June, Jennifer and I visited the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  Both the memorial and the museum are part of the Equal Justice initiative, a nonprofit that, according to their website is “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

The memorial on a hill overlooking Montgomery memorializes the nearly 5,000 African-Americans that were lynched in the United States from 1870 to 1950. The museum traces the history of racism experienced by millions of African-Americans within the United States. Visiting both were stunning, sobering and fascinating.

I have just finished JUST MERCY — A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Stevenson’s powerful New York Times bestseller chronicles the inherent inhumanity within the American justice system, especially poor Blacks in the South.

JUST MERCY explores a number of devastating cases, including children as young as fourteen facing life imprisonment, and scores of people on death row – mostly poor, and mostly black – who have been unfairly convicted. For 30 years Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate, and his team have worked to help free men and women, largely African-American and poor, who were unfairly sentenced to prison, some of them facing the death penalty.

Stevenson is a gentle, empathic man, a fearless attorney for the poor and underrepresented and a great writer.  He takes you right inside his cases.  I was quickly and totally swept up in the story. The book made me angry, sad, and relieved, especially when justice was served, and sadly, it wasn’t nearly as much as it should have been.

After I read the book I said to myself, “I would love to meet Bryan Stevenson.”

By the way, Stevenson’s outstanding 2012 TED Talk garnered him one of the longest standing ovations in the history of TED Talks.

Both JUST MERCY and the TED TALK are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

Ruined & Redeemed — a story of incredible hope!

A horrific true story told in an incredibly redemptive way by a wonderful pastor.

Ruined” (Tyndale House Publishers, 2016) is Rev. Ruth Everhart’s gripping memoir of facing a horrific robbery and rape at her apartment during her senior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Two men masked men broken into Everhart’s apartment at 12:30am on an early November night in 1978, and Everhart and 3 Calvin roommates were held at gunpoint, robbed, verbally assaulted and raped.

“Ruined” is Everhart’s brutally honest and riveting account of what happened and how she survived and ultimately made sense of it. Calvin College is a Christian Reformed-based school and Everhart brought her traditional Christian Reformed faith – her birthright, she calls it – to see if she could make sense of what happened.

She writes: “The sovereignty of God means that God is supreme and rules over all. Nothing can happen apart from God’s will.” But suddenly and without warning, what she always had believed left her confused and wanting.

In the months following the brutal ordeal, Everhart’s traditional Christian Reformed faith came face to face with her anger, confusion, and shame. She had been violated in the worst way imaginable and she wanted to know where God was and how he felt about it.

In the ensuing months and years she questioned nearly everything about her faith and her practices. She was not about to let her childhood faith off the hook easily. What was true, anyway?  Who was God? Was He good?  Was He fair?  Was what happened to Everhart and her roommates part of His will, as some in the Christian Reformed tradition would have said? Everhart wondered if she even believed in God at all.

There was loss upon loss.  The girls immediately moved from the apartment and many did not stay together the next semester. There was so much sadness and grief and anger and confusion in the days immediately following the awful crime. But before long several of them graduated from Calvin and began moving on in life, or at least trying to. Everhart writes that ultimately “each of us had to navigate this terrible time alone. Our friendship was one more thing the rapists had stolen from us, perhaps the most valuable thing.“

In the memoir Everhart takes the reader through her years of recovery, including lots of emotional trauma and even making some decisions about her sexuality that she regrets. But in time she eventually emerged as a wife, a seminary student, a mother of 2 daughters and an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, where she now as served churches in a career spanning nearly 25 years.

Everhart’s own father was a principal in a Christian Reformed school in the Christian Reformed Church tradition where women could not be ordained. Interestingly, part of Everhart’s recovery from the horrific sexual assault finally led to her feeling called to the ministry herself, but it was not though the Christian Reformed tradition, where the door was closed for a woman to pursue ministry as an ordained pastor. Here’s how she describes it:

“It was a straightforward decision, really. Either I was called to ministry or I wasn’t. That was the key piece. Decades later, I understand why I wrestled with the decision. It may have been a straightforward matter, but it was hardly a simple one. Ordination rarely is.  As for a woman with my history – growing up in a conservative culture that barred women from ministry, being raped at gun point, taking up with a married man – the issue of fitness for ministry was especially fraught. Not just ‘Could a woman be a minister?’ but ‘Could I, a woman with a history, be a minister?’”

For Everhart, it really came down to making peace with not feeling good enough to be ordained. “I needed to put aside, once and for all, my sense of being not good enough. I was a woman. A rape survivor. A sinner. What’s more, I would always be these things. The Spirit could use me – not in spite of them, but because of them.”

Everhart emerged as a pastor who to this day is utterly, wholeheartedly convinced that all of us are of infinitely more value and worth than what happened to us in our past or what will ever happen to us in our future.

Here is Everhart in the Epilogue of her book describing that human value she holds onto and spreads to others as widely as she can. The Epilogue of her book actually is a beautiful, affirming letter she wrote to her 2 daughters.One line in the letter says:

“The truth is that women who have been sexually violated have the same intrinsic value as women who have not been sexually violated. Period. Another human cannot damage a woman’s sexual self and by doing so destroy her life. … Daughters, don’t believe the lies!  You are more than your virginity. You are more than your sexual history. You are more than what happens to you. You are immensely valuable. No wound can ever make you less than whole. Wounds become scars, and scars make a person beautiful. In fact, nothing is more washable than human skin. It is the most washable substance on earth.  Thank God.”

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Highly Recommended!