A Piece of Heaven: Reconciliation in the Wake of #metoo
After the #metoo viral social media campaign of the last few weeks, we asked several female leaders to reflect on the problem within the Church—and how Anglican clergy and leaders can respond. Our second writer is Tamara Hill Murphy, who shares how she found hope after her own devastating experience of #metoo, plus three ways Anglican clergy can protect and care for their congregations. Read the first reflection by Ally Kern.
by Tamara Hill Murphy
Harvey Weinstein’s Connecticut home is four-and-a-half miles from the place our church meets every Sunday.
And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the headlines since accounts of sexual harrassment and assult aren’t exactly new crimes. What is new is the way social media allows for those who’ve suffered to share their own stories, making it impossible for anyone to deny the epidemic-like dimensions of sexual misconduct. When victims of assault, harrassment, and abuse in our congregations and communities have the courage to acknowledge what has been done to them in secret, we, in the Church, have the honor of shining the gentle, healing light of the Gospel in every place where darkness is being revealed.
I am a member of the #metoo community. With each new disclosure among friends and strangers in the past weeks, I have fought through once again the famliar feelings of hopelessness and shame-induced hatred. With my husband’s encouragement, I’ve been able to focus instead on the indestructable truth that our Father draws near – He literally cannot resist – the broken hearted. This is good news that I have experienced first-hand throughout years of receiving and participating in the ministry of healing for broken hearts, minds, and bodies.
In these past weeks, my husband, Brian, and I’ve renewed our commitment to fight in prayer and in care for the vulnerable ones who’ve entrusted us with their own painful stories of being sexually harrassed, belittled, bullied, objectified, demeaned, groomed, manipulated, assaulted, and abused. Because of my story and because of our calling in the care of the Church, we are especially tender toward those violated behind church doors.
My own abuses have taken place almost completely within Christian environments, and I’m devastated to realize over and over again that I am in no way alone. While the Roman Catholic church has been the focus of most of culture’s anger against clergy abuses, Protestant churches are in no way exempt from the sort of violation, and the equally shameful complicity that covers the sins against women, men, boys, and girls entrusted to their care.
By the paradox of God’s redemptive genious, it’s been predominantly Christian men and women who have loved me back to health. Through many acts of goodness – large and small, human and divine – I am made new, alive, hopeful, grateful for my gender, and my story. That is the sort of message I hoped to express with my #metoo confession.
That, and one other.
As I continue to ponder the ongoing #metoo conversation, I make the following appeal:
To my pastor friends who have already invested so much into the care of people, and have already dealt with too many heartbreaking scenarios to count, please do not grow weary in doing good.
Here are three specific ways to offer protection and care for your congregations:
- If you have any suspicion that one of the men or women with spiritual authority in your church is behaving in even the subtlest forms of manipulation over the people they lead, please for the love of God and his people, investigate, risk the awkward conversations, and, if erring at all, err on the side of the vulnerable. Do not be sidetracked by misplaced loyalties, or defensive posturing that makes the ministry leader out to be the vulnerable one. While it’s true that leaders can be targets for wrongful accusations, it is also true that in the leader/follower equation leaders are the ones with power, and spiritual leaders, uniquely so. It’s important in this work of discernment to be aware of the definitions of sexual assault. We recommend the definitions given at the CDC and EEOC. No one benefits from ambiguity.
- Please take seriously all forms of sexual misconduct: words and actions. Please care about what is implicit as much as what is explicit. Please make, especially, the physical and emotional welfare of children and teens in your church a priority.We recommend the great work being done for churches by organizations like GRACE and SAFE.
- Please make your church a place where both the abused and the abuser can tell the truth about themselves and get the help they need.
This, in no way, means buffering abusers from lawful consequences. In fact, one of the greatest offers of pastoral care takes place when an abuser is reported and, then, companioned through the penalties of the justice system. This also does not mean that reformed abusers should automatically be returned to full fellowship with the community. Much discernment and pastoral oversight is required. It does mean that all are welcome to the grace and mercy of the forgiving and cleansing acts of Christ.
This level of protection for our parishes also requires us to keep in mind that a large percentage of abusers were once the abused. When we advocate and shepherd these broken ones with both love and truth, we create a holy disruption in the cycle of violations perpetuated by the one who robs, kills, and destroys.
I believe the Anglican church is uniquely positioned in her theology, worship, and mission to exemplify Christ within our churches and to extend the healing and grace that Christ offers to humanity. In Brian’s and my experience, that work takes place largely through the ministries of listening and healing prayer, the spiritual disciplines of silence, confession, forgiveness, and community, the formative theology of suffering and reconciliation, and, perhaps above all else, the remembering Christ and his offer of transformation through the regular Eucharistic feast.
Several years ago, while attending a week-long training in listening and healing prayer with some of our parish, I caught the clearest glimpse of heaven I’ve ever been given. During our closing time together with this Ecumenical gathering, we were invited to first share brief testimonies and then to proceed together in Communion, each of us breaking a piece of bread to serve to the one behind us in line. In that line I watched those who’d given testimony of being abused receive bread from the very hands of those who’d confessed themselves ones who’d given abuse. There was no boundary line between us. In that moment, we were all freely given the body and blood of the Christ who lived, died, resurrected, and ascended in his body to sit at the right hand of God, interceding for us. With His very same Spirit, we’ve been given the same power to be reconciled to each other and to God.
May it be so.
- Do women who have said #metoo have a place to find healing in your church?
- How do you react to the picture of the abused and the abusers breaking bread together?
- How can you advocate for and shepherd those who have committed abuse?
Tamara Hill Murphy lives with her husband Brian, an Anglican priest in Bridgeport, CT. Her writing has appeared in Plough, Think Christian, Art House America, and Englewood Review of Books. She is currently working toward her certification as a Spiritual Director and learning how to parent her four adult children. Find her at www.tamarahillmurphy.com or at Tamara Hill Murphy-A Sacramental Life on Facebook.