When it comes to admitting where we’ve made mistakes, the Christian church has often failed to walk in the way of humility, love and repentance set out by Jesus. Two important new books seek to change that by wrestling with the sexual abuse crisis in the church and gender-based violence around the world.
In the first, #WeToo: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis, which releases next week, author, sexual abuse survivor and victim’s advocate Mary DeMuth calls the church to protect those who have been abused, rather than their abusers.
“There is a holy reckoning unfolding before us in the church,” DeMuth writes, “a white-hot exposure of those who have stolen, killed, and destroyed others. This is a necessary corrective for those who have either blamed and shamed survivors or created elaborate facades for cover-ups.”
Survivors of sexual abuse in the church, she says, are often afraid to speak up for fear of being kicked out of their congregations or losing their friends, and evangelical leaders have often scoffed at those who speak up. “They have minimized abuse, using rhetoric that morphs it from a criminal felony to a minor infraction—a sin issue to confront, not a crime to report,” writes DeMuth, who was featured by The Washington Post and LA Times for standing on a sidewalk outside this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, calling on leaders to address the abuse crisis.
In her book, DeMuth recounts the Biblical beginnings of violence against women, God’s response, the way in which Jesus respected and honored women, a history of abuse in the church and a call for the church to be robust in preventing, exposing and reporting abusers. “Remember this,” DeMuth writes. “A perpetrator may have hurt someone for a few minutes of his/her life and may even regret it, but a survivor lives with the pain, triggers, shame and fear for a lifetime.” And yet, she says the church’s typical response has been passivity. That is what DeMuth, with her valuable books, intends to change.
Another excellent resource for those wishing to strengthen young women while also preventing gender-based abuse is author Jenny Rae Armstrong’s new book, From Risk to Resilience: How Empowering Young Women Can Change Everything. Armstrong, a Wesleyan pastor who grew up in the developing world, calls violence against girls, “The oldest injustice.”
“That is what this book is about: the particular dangers that adolescent girls face, and what happens when they are given the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual tools they need to overcome those challenges,” Armstrong says in her introduction. She also recounts Christians’ cultural unwillingness to talk about gender issues.
“A decent place to begin,” Armstrong writes, “would be by acknowledging that things are not all as they should be… That sometimes even godly people wind up colluding with the powerful at the expense of the weak, turning a blind eye to suffering, or even becoming so desensitized to the commonplace injustices of the society in which they live that they don’t realize what is happening is wrong.”
Armstrong recounts the particular challenges girls face in the developing world, from having to gather wood and water while their brothers study for school to early marriage and motherhood to sexual exploitation and abuse, much of which she has witnessed firsthand. And yet, she says the central problem is not poverty, education or violence. “No,” she writes, “the core problem resides squarely in the hearts and minds of human beings, in the ubiquitous devaluation of women and girls,” which is why, she says, we must all work to change it by fighting for peace.
“We don’t win by destroying our enemies,” she says. “We win by calling them back to life so that they become brothers, sisters, and friends.”
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Lantern Hill Light Parade, the fourth book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now.