You will hear me say certain things over and over again. They are my core messages and there is one that I consider the ‘why’ of my work. It is, “we can't heal the world, until we heal ourselves and to do that we need to start living truthfully.” But living truthfully is not easy, is it?
I have been triggered by this article that was published in the New York Times yesterday about Bill Hybels. In it, Pat Baranowski tells her story of her relationship with Bill Hybels. And no surprise she explains her years of silence with the statement, “I didn’t want to hurt the church.”
I can’t tell you how often I said the same words. Or was fed that way of thinking by people in church leadership on all kinds of issues - not just sexual abuse. I was told by an elder in TCTFU (The Church That Fired Us) to vote against women being allowed to serve as elders because it was a divisive issue. It would hurt the church because people who didn't agree with women in leadership would leave. The belief that the church has to be protected leads to a practice of denying the truth about what is happening within churches.
I remember sharing my story of sexual abuse publicly for the first time when I spoke at a women’s retreat at TCTFU. I sat down after speaking feeling that vulnerability hangover that comes from being so open with a group. A woman came and sat down beside me and put her arm around me and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t have shared that story. No one wants to hear that from their pastor’s wife.” Ouch.
At another retreat, at another church, I told the planning committee my intention to share my story. I was confidently told, “You can share it, but no one here will relate to it. We don’t have any women in our church who have experienced sexual abuse.” I shared it and spent the entire next two days meeting one on one with women in that congregation who had been abused by church leaders, a Christian school principal and fathers who served on church boards. One woman told me the story of sharing the story with her father about her school principal sexually abusing her and being beaten by her father for telling lies.
My desire is to work with women to help them reclaim a healthy and vibrant faith. You can’t do that if you are trying to protect the church. Reach out if you want to talk. And for God's sake stop protecting the church.