The following article is a guest post from Amy Gannett.
Her hands shook even as she clenched them in her lap, and her speech was studded with obvious uncertainty. Though she sat only inches from me on my living room couch, she was a world away, tucked behind walls of self-protection and shame. Bravely and plainly she broke the silence: “I have to tell you something. The other night, I was raped.”
She was the first woman under my ministry care to courageously share with me her experience as a victim of sexual assault. I was young, inexperienced in ministry, and though I knew the weight of what had just been entrusted to me, I was unsure how to navigate it wisely.
Months after walking through the public and private process of healing with her and an older, wiser ministry team member, I remember naïvely thinking that the scenario would be unique among my ministry experiences.
I was wrong.
Though she was the first woman to share her experience as a victim of sexual assault with me, she was by no means the last. Over the last several days, the #MeToo hashtag has lit up our screens with seemingly endless testimonies of sexual assault. Initiated by activist Tarana Burke more than 10 years ago, and recently popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, the #MeToo campaign has brought to light the countless number of women and men who have been sexually assaulted, harassed, and victimized.
And victims of such abuses are not just on Twitter, but are sitting in our pews, in our women’s ministries, and on our leadership teams (perhaps, like myself, you can also say #MeToo). As women called and positioned to minister to women in our local congregations, the #MeToo campaign can shape our women’s ministries in three powerful ways.
Be aware. One in six women is the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and women compose 90 percent of all rape victims each year. While this statistic alone is staggering, the #MeToo campaign has revealed the pervasiveness of sexual aggression, objectification, and harassment as the shared female experience. And while women do not seem as surprised as our male counterparts by the testimonies—or, by the sheer number of them—most women’s ministry discipleship programs and curriculums don’t address the topic often, if at all.
Our women’s ministries are full of women who, perhaps like ourselves, have been assaulted, harassed, and victimized. As such our ministries need to be safe spaces for women to share their experiences and hear the shame-shedding truth of the gospel. As the discipleship home for many victims of sexual violation, the #MeToo campaign reminds us we need to practice awareness in this area—to intentionally and strategically speak to the subjects of shame and justice in our teaching, and to guard our ministries against insensitive or trivializing comments. As we cultivate ministry spaces where women can share vulnerably, honestly, and without fear of dismissal, we open the door for the Lord to do a mighty work of healing.
Be encouraged. Though sexual assault among women (and men) is rampant, the Lord’s arm is not shortened. The #MeToo campaign has put on display for us the prevalence of human fallenness, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the testimonies and by the number of testimonies. Yes, the sinfulness and brokenness of humanity is pervasive—but so is God’s grace.
Through the #MeToo campaign, the table has been set for God to do a powerful act of healing and restoration—including in our women’s ministries. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the core conviction that binds our ministries together, speaks to the heart of sin, shame, and our need for a Healer. As women positioned to speak into the lives of the women under our ministerial care, we have the privilege of telling women about God our Defender (Psalm 121), El Roi who sees us (Genesis 16:13), and our Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18).
We are called and enabled to hold out before all our women the character of the God we serve and the hope of his saving power. By his Spirit, the Lord can use broken vessels like me and you to walk women toward healing and restoration as we proclaim the gospel of grace and truth. So, be encouraged, sister; the Lord is at work. He is at work in and through you as you care for the women entrusted to you.
Be prepared. Too many #MeToo testimonies have two components: the occurrence of assault or harassment, and the mishandled response (or, worse: those who tried to cover it up). This is a timely reminder our ministries need a plan of action for when sexual assault is brought to our attention. Now is the time. Gather with your ministry team and pastors and make a plan that details how your ministry will respond when similar situations are brought to your attention. Reach out to any local shelters and women’s services, familiarize yourself and your ministry team with their services, and, where it is helpful, include their contact information in your plan. Consider the character of our God—his justice, kindness, gentleness, and truthfulness—and pray that your plan might reflect his character.
Then, document the plan, distribute the plan, and, when necessary, implement the plan. (And, if you aren’t currently dealing with this in your own church—good! Now is the perfect time to craft an objective course of action).
Sisters in ministry, we have the unique call to lead women into deeper fellowship with our God and with each other. Let us respond to each and every #MeToo testimony brought to us with the compassion of Christ and the hope of the gospel—that our women might flourish and God might be glorified.