The #MeToo Reckoning:
Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct
Reviewed by Diane Roth
I ask the question more than once: “What makes this book so powerful?” My first response is that it is the combination of the author’s honest retelling of her story with compelling stories from scripture, and the stories of other churches and individuals who have experienced sexual abuse and misconduct. Rev. Everhart begins by telling two stories: she recaps the story she shared in her book “Ruined,” about how she and other members of her household were raped at gunpoint when she was in college. Then she tells a story from her first call as a young pastor, of the unwelcome attention and abuse from her senior colleague. These two stories she weaves together with the Biblical story of Tamar, the daughter of King David, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon, and whose call for justice went unanswered. Rev. Everhart explicates the biblical text and the questions it raises, as well as the questions in her own experiences in and with the church.
Her use of Biblical texts is also powerful. Not only does she use expected texts like the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, and the story of David and Bathsheba, she also uses the story of the hemorrhaging woman and the parable of the persistent widow, Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body in first Corinthians 12, and Jesus’ advocacy of care for the little ones in Matthew 10.
And while she begins with her own story, and the vulnerability she exposes, she doesn’t end there. The story of her first call is not just about her: eventually it reveals a whole system of where a lack of boundaries and secrecy made a toxic mix. She is not afraid to grapple with her own hurt, but also not afraid to question whether she herself had been complicit in the system. She wonders what she did not have the eyes to see. So her book moves from the personal to the systemic. Sexual and Clergy abuse become a systematic issue where the powerful are protected at the expense of the weak.
Perhaps that is what makes this book so powerful.
One of the arresting metaphors she uses in one chapter of the book is about infection. Perhaps because we are in the middle of fighting a novel virus right now, these questions leap out at me: How does the church fight infection? And why do we succumb to it sometimes? What are the healthy attributes of the body of Christ that can keep us from harming the most vulnerable among us? What does Jesus say about the ‘weaker members’ and why do we so often protect the strong instead?
Questions like these: Perhaps this is what makes the book so powerful.
The stories that she shares beyond her own are also varied and powerful. She shares stories of a church grappling with a seminarian and youth worker’s betrayal, and how the church protected him. She tells a story about boundary violations in a church’s soup kitchen, and among the homeless, and grapples with how a woman pastor can be just as unseeing of these systems in congregations as men can. She calls out the church’s clericalism that allows clergy to not seek input from their lay leaders and perpetuate unsafe places in their congregations.
Perhaps that is what makes this book so powerful
But finally, I think it is this: it is Everhart’s deep faith and hope for the church, in the face of all of the damning evidence she lays out. Every chapter ends with a short paragraph marked ‘My Hope.’ Her first chapter ends with this “My Hope”: ‘My hope is that the church will hear Tamar’s question, ‘Where can I carry my shame?’ and answer, ‘to the church. Churches can welcome victims and survivors, hear their stories, and heal their wounds. Churches can protect the vulnerable, challenge and prosecute abusers, and become a space that is both safer and braver.”
This is what makes the book so powerful.
In the midst of everything, is hope.
Diane Roth is a Lutheran Pastor who currently serves Grace Lutheran in Conroe, Texas. She has also served congregations in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and in rural South Dakota. She and her musician husband have two sons and three grandchildren. In her spare time, she knits, writes, and dreams of getting another dog.